Great Stories, Leadership, Partners, Resources, Vision

What Should you do with Social Media?

I am seeing and hearing a lot of charities talking and requesting funding to establish a social media plan and presence. I don’t claim to be an expert in the field but here are my current thoughts for what it’s worth. The driving aspect of social media is media. At root these are just additional vehicles for you to share your story and build your community. If you haven’t figured out your Values/Vision/Mission and general marketing approaches you won’t find answers in facebook and twitter. Start with the basics of organizational identity and make sure you have something to say before you come in to the party. That said, the entire culture of social media lends itself to experimentation rather than polished presentation. Don’t spend a huge amount of time trying to figure out how to become involved. Jump in, play around, and see what you can explore. Follow Seth Godin’s advice; start now and make it up as you go along. Like learning a new language, it comes more quickly through immersion. Be wary of social media consultants. Social media is more like the wild west than an academic library. With so much novelty and uncertainty there are few reliable experts or proven strategies. It is nearly impossible to determine the key credentials for evaluating potential hired guides. In many cases there might be better return from just figuring out who in your current organization is already native to the world of internet community and give them the encouragement and opportunity to lead. You may be surprised at how quickly things spread to the rest of your team. The key to all social media is consistency. According to Southwest Airlines inflight magazine a large majority of twitter accounts are dormant, out of date blogs are much worse than no blog at all, and if people are going to be looking for you on your facebook page you had better be sure you see their post quickly. Someone in your organization needs to go to sleep with social media on their mind if you want to make this truly strategic instead of a random dabble. It all starts with having a website that quickly and effectively communicates what your organization is all about. Without this in place, social media is like having a beautiful facade on a rundown hovel. You need to be sure that visitors to your site can easily access the heart of your work and that your contact info is immediately available. I love the work that Peer Giving Solutions is doing with donor based websites for people like those at Trinity Western University. A blog is a great centrepiece to social media. See Absolute.org’s 52 Stories blog for an example of how regularly updated, excellent storytelling can be compelling. You don’t need to have superior writing;  a few paragraphs describing an upcoming event, reviewing a favourite resource, or letting us know what’s being discussed around the water cooler is enough. A readable blog isn’t just propaganda for yourselves, it’s a chance to become a voice on the issues and topics that are relevant to your organizational world. Tell us what some other people are doing right and we’ll be more likely to pay attention when you bring your own message. Facebook is a good way for people to associate. Putting up a page gives your stakeholders a place to claim their connection and interact. The ease with which you can post links, pictures, video, discussions, and events makes facebook a great multimedia tool. It’s not difficult to get people to sign up, but maintaining activity on your page is a challenge. Twitter is not inherently interactive, more of a broadcast medium. Very effective for giving quick updates (World Vision’s Dave Toycen gave compelling updates from Haiti within days of the earthquake), the real key probably isn’t in accumulating the most followers, but in moving people from twitter to your blog or website. Building a meaningful presence comes through being active in replying and retweeting, not just self-promotion. Youtube and Vimeo are effective for posting videos for promotion, training, or storytelling. Other social media tools are designed for easy synchronization with these. The audience tends to be younger and commentary can be far from gracious. Our friends at Next Level Leadership are hosting a training webinar on social media this Saturday morning for those eager to learn more.