By Carrie Smith
Believe it or not, social media has become a form of communication not to be ignored. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world’s third-most popular country based on users, passing the United Sates. LinkedIn is used by 95 percent of companies for hiring purposes. The age group considered less likely to take part in social media, 55–65 year olds, is the fastest growing among users. Social media is so popular it outranks e-mail as a primary way to keep in touch with friends, family, and acquaintances.
To use social media effectively, though, your association needs more than a Facebook page or a Twitter account. "You have to define success,” said Richard C. Brasser, president and CEO of the Targeted Group. For associations, success means engaging members and connecting them with one another. How your association does so will be specific to the wants and needs of your members. Association Media & Publishing’s Annual Meeting session, "Make the Connection: Engage Members Using Social Media,” outlined the five most important steps to designing and implementing a social media strategy: people, objective, strategy, technology, and sustainability (or POSTS).
Step 1: People
Social media may be a new way of communicating, but the most basic of the old rules, "Know your audience,” still applies. Here is where associations have the advantage. "You already have a community in real life,” said Brasser, "it’s how you tap into it.” How do members of your association already take part in social media? What privacy concerns might they have? By responding to those types of questions, your association can get a better idea of what to expect and how to measure initiatives.
Step 2: Objective
When associations began to get a foothold in social media, often the objective was to decide on which platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) to participate. Essentially, the strategy was to have a presence. The problem lies in getting involved before you know what you want to accomplish. "You don’t want to end up building a road that goes nowhere,” said Brassier. Decide how you want to engage your members and learn how to put a face on your organization—then choose how to get involved.
Step 3: Strategy
Beyond developing ways for members to engage in social media, associations should create a strategy for employees. Start by putting together a social media policy, crafting it in such a way that everyone can easily understand it. "Do not let your attorneys craft your social media policy,” said Brassier.
"Or your IT department,” said Tim Eigo, editor of Arizona Attorney for the State Bar of Arizona. Jack Davidson, vice president of creative services and media sales for the YGS Group, suggested doing a Google search for the top 100 social media policies to get an idea. Social media policies should be made with trust, focusing on showing employees how to use social media rather than how not to use it.
Step 4: Technology
Perhaps because social media is web-based, many get caught up in the technical side of it. Instead of thinking how social media can be used to engage members, associations may initiate a strategy by deciding which platform to use. However, social media platforms should facilitate communicating your message, not directing it. "The right channel, the right time, the right audience,” Eigo said. "Communications 101.”
Knowing which social media platform to use is specific to the goals of each association. Great options are available, including ones that are private. Even though Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms are at no cost to users, you are still sacrificing certain functionality and services that may be worthwhile enough to pay for them.
Step 5: Sustainability
Once your association makes a decision to get members involved through social media, the next question is how to sustain it. "About 80 percent of social media efforts fail,” Davidson said. One mistake associations may make in social media is the assumption that users will generate all of the content. Be sure to stir conversation by asking questions and sharing information. Do not be afraid to try new things to find out what gets the best response from your audience. "You have to be okay with things not working,” Brassier said.
Carrie Smith is communications coordinator at the Oncology Nursing Society. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this 2010 Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.