Getting started with the use of social media can be a daunting task. There are blogs, Twitter accounts, GoogleBuzz!, instant-messaging tools by the dozens, Facebook… The list goes on-and-on, and it will only continue to lengthen for the foreseeable future. All that access to information can be overwhelming. We at MKCREATIVE will post some ideas and suggestions over the next few weeks that might help calm fears and perhaps clarify some misconceptions about social media and online networking. For today’s entry, we wanted to touch on the ‘concepts’ of social networking and how to get involved, as well as why. In later postings we will turn to software and ‘work habits’ that we have found useful, and you might too.
We wanted to take our experience and fold it into some words of wisdom we have learned from others. One nice example is a blog entry from Larry Blumenthal, who worked for the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
One of the key pieces of advice that everyone points out, and we have discovered, is the need to have a business and outreach goal first. Then turn to the social media where and how they can help you achieve the goal. The apparent ease with which one can establish an online presence (as consumer or even producer) can encourage one to put carts before horses. But once you work out your longer term strategies, the shorter term opportunities offered via social media can be a real help. Or not.
Indeed, one of the greatest pressures one might feel when first getting started is ‘everyone else is doing it, but I feel uncomfortable getting started.’ That pressure might give you the impression that a Facebook page and an ever tweeting Twitter account and a blog presence are all absolutely necessary for survival. But Blumenthal emphasizes the need for ‘baby steps,’ which should be applied both to the kinds of social media to get involved with and how involved you and your organization are with them. He gives some telling examples of experiences his consultation firm had as they waded through different tactics of using social media, surveys, and blogs – and it is comforting to note that even the folks at the RWJ Foundation sometimes misunderstand the market for what they sought to develop.
Those first ‘baby steps’ should probably be on the path of the consumer, not the producer, of social networking. Sign up for a Twitter account and poke around for a few organizations to follow (see our post earlier this week for a fine list of fourteen great places to start!). Get used to having your Twitter software (of which there are dozens of examples) highlight some recent postings every little while. See if the notices are intrusive or not, and scale up or down your followers list appropriately.
As for your nonprofit/socially-engaged business, seek out someone already comfortable with the technology and give him or her the pleasurable responsibility of posting tweets relevant to your good work. If the account were set up as the company’s name, then the tweets will be ‘anonymous’ from a personal point of view, allowing some rotation of tweet-posters without confusion as to who is posting. Tweeters who do not post incessantly and who include links to other tweets (‘retweeting’)/websites/blogs/etc. are generally considered more engaged and better online citizens, so start incorporating such links early on in your habits.
Facebook andare not new technologies (by the standards of the Digital Age), so their use (and expectation of their use) has evolved. Use of Facebook in particular far outstrips all other social media sites, and one can find pages made by grade-schoolers, civic groups, rock stars, and corporations. The pool is deep, wide, and daunting. Of course, your organization wants to come in to contact with as many people as possible, and as Facebook matures more and more people are getting comfortable with it. But even here baby steps are possible. One need not turn one’s page into a blog, for example, which would require fairly consistent upkeep. Use it instead as a billboard that would need occasional updating, but combine that with a tweet letting people know of the update.
In both cases, upscaleability (is that a word?) is an option as one grows more comfortable with the technology and one starts to find an audience. So too is downscaleability: Do not be afraid to slow down some of the postings or updates if the office gets especially busy. The one thing to avoid is simply dropping whatever the online ‘rhythm’ was you established: If you back off to one tweet a day from four, you might want to give your followers the heads up. They will respect the forthrightness, and they will not wonder what might be ‘wrong’ at your organization.
Finally – and a personal favorite of mine from Mr. Blumenthal’s list – ‘Embrace Failure’! Some posts will not be so insightful. Many tweets will seem to disappear as soon as they are posted. Such is the nature of the medium. The hope is to generate conversation and interest and exchange, but not everything will work or can work.
“This is all one big experiment right now. Everybody is learning together. Look at everything you do as a pilot. You are just trying to see what works. …
Bottom line: If you look at things as an experiment, everything becomes an opportunity to learn.”