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Recipe for Social Media Success

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By special contributor: Holly Ross, Executive Director, Nonprofit Technology Network

Communications professionals and chefs have a lot in common. What often seems like magic is usually based on years of rigorous training and preparation. We create recipes for ourselves that are proven to work, and we add to our repertoire throughout our years in the field.  We also find, from time to time, that advances in technology – say, the microwave, or social media – cause us to rethink everything we thought we knew. Is the press release still the cornerstone of our recipe book? Will a dash of humor spoil the soup, or reinvent it beautifully?

Recently, I partnered with nonprofit communications specialist and Getting Attention blogger Nancy Schwartz to tackle these questions, share guidelines, and highlight case studies on using social media tools to build buzz (and reach) via a Communications Network webinar. The familiar kitchen in which we all used to work has been uprooted, encased in glass, and filled with gadgets. Suddenly, everyone can see what you’re cooking, and tell you what they think about it too!

Of course, like any good community event, we think that the presentation was only half the value. Some great insights came in via Twitter  and in the conference chat.  Reading through them all, we found that there were questions and comments that fell into six themes:

  • Listening
  • Personal v. Professional
  • Policies
  • Multiple Voices
  • ROI
  • Managing Chaos

“Listening is the first step.

Webinar attendee @juleenweberger shared that phrase on Twitter, and it’s exactly the right way to approach building buzz.  If you want to build buzz in social networks, you have to build a community that will be engaged and dedicated enough to share your work with others.  It’s like having guests over for dinner – you want to know if any are vegetarian, allergic to certain foods, or especially fond of Indian. If you’ve paid attention to these details, your guests will go home and rave to others about your impeccable cooking.  Knowing what your audience clicks on, retweets, shares in their status updates, etc. will help you create and share content that they will want to help spread.

If you want more on this topic, here are some helpful resources:
We Are Media on Listening
Getting Attenion blog post on how Heifer International Listens

Personal v. Professional

One of the things that makes great cooking well, great, is personality.  When a chef puts his or her personality on the plate, the meal gets a lot more enjoyable.  But is the same true for the communications professional?  How much of your personality belongs in your work?  It’s a question without an answer, but social media makes the tension apparent every day.  Simply put, social media is about people, not brands.  People make connections, listen, share and do all the things that social media has made possible.  At the same time, organizations are, rightly so, concerned that the brand and message not be diluted by the individual voice.  Each organization will have to decide for itself how much individual personality ends up on their plates.

For more:
Nonprofit Technology Blog Post on Branding for Organizational Goodness
Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications blog on Getting the Personal and Professional Mix Right in Social Media

Social Media Policies

With your reputation on the line, and with so little professional guidance available, it’s important for organizations to put policies in place to help guide staff to effective use of social media for their organizations.  While there are a few hard-and-fast rules, there is no single policy that will adequately address all the needs of your organization.  Your social media policy should be driven by the culture of your organization, so communication your values and making the implicit explicit will be a large part of the work.

For more:
Beth’s Blog on Whether Your Organization Needs a Social Media Policiy
A list of Social Media Polices, courtesy of Christine Mulvin, The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati

Multiple Voices

Many attendees on the webinar were intrigued by a case study featuring Slade Sundar of Palm Beach County Community Foundation’s Slade is the Director of Digital Communications and oversees several Twitter accounts as part of work.  This led several participants to wonder “How many Twitter accounts do we need?  What if there are too many cooks in the kitchen?” It’s a valid question – too many cooks will ruin a souffle, but that’s not necessarily the case in social media.  It’s not uncommon for organizations to have multiple Twitter accounts or Fan Pages on Facebook.  You just need to ask yourself – will my supporters have an appetite for this, and so I need to brand something separately from my other accounts?

For more:
David Risely blog post on How Many Twitter Accounts Should You Have?
Thomas Attila Lewis blog post on Strategy Behind Multiple Twitter Accounts

Return on Investment

There was also a high-level of interest in the amount of time it takes to build buzz in social media.  One attendee commented that for four hours of staff time a week, she better see some real results.  When you’re cooking, you know whether or not you succeeded.  The cake rises, or it doesn’t.  You can isolate each part of the recipe until you determine exactly where you went wrong, and try again.  In social media, things are much less clear.  There are fewer tools to measure success with, and “success” may not be quantifiable at all.  In social media, there are both tangible results – more traffic driven to your website – and intangible benefits – like a positive association with your organization.  The trick to demonstrating real ROI for a social media effort is to account for both.

For more:
Mashable blog post on The 40 Best Twitter Brands
Getting Attention blog post on Marketing Calculators

Managing Chaos

A big part of cooking is timing.  It’s knowing what to start when, when to turn the heat up, and when to turn it down.  A professional kitchen is managed chaos, and that’s what a good social media strategy is too.  The average number of tweets per day across all of Twitter is 27.3 MILLION.  In a world where our email inbox is too much to deal with, the kind of volume of noise generated by social media can seem overwhelming.  There are lots of ways to help focus your attention, however.  Both free and paid tools are available to help you manage the chaos.

For more:
We are Media: Tools for monitoring social media 
Social Media Explorer’s Quick n’ Dirty Social Media Monitoriing Guide

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