One of the easiest ways to foul up your social media outreach is to go into the process blind; with no plan. Wielding social media without a plan is like a grandmother trying to start a campfire with a lightsaber in the forest - you aren't really sure what you have, you aren't using it properly/effectively and you can really look strange in the process. There is a really quick five stage process when developing an outreach strategy that uses social media that most consultants and professionals use in some variation. The five stages are; Preparation, Implementation, Launch, Analysis, and Adaptation and the stages repeat with the same outreach campaign in the future, or with new ones you develop.
In the preparation stage of the process it is the proper time for the organization to, as a whole, set their over all goals when it comes to the future of their organization. Is there a specific issue they work on that they want higher national recognition? Is there a target donation amount for their upcoming budget they need to raise? Do they just want to increase awareness of their organization as a whole? This part of the process is known as the "Why are we here" portion where the organization as a whole has to declare their overall goals. From here those goals can be developed and broken down into smaller goals and even metrics to measure success. For example, if an organization's overall mission statement is to conserve national open spaces, then that goal could be broken down to consist of an overall image campaign to increase the national awareness of their organization and the perception of the importance of open spaces, behavior modification to change the relationship between the constituency and open spaces, fundraising, and even more specific, targeted conservation campaigns. Now let us just focus down this path on increasing the national awareness of the organization in question. This could be broken down into; increasing national traffic to the website, increasing reach of stories to nationally syndicated papers, and possibly being consider a part of the conversation leadership. This process can be long and arduous but eventually it will allow you as an organization to have a clear set of small and achievable goals to help you achieve your mission statement.
When setting goals and preparing the early stages of the outreach plan the most crucial step is to figure out your Target Demographic. This is applicable to any campaign strategy basically it means figuring out who would/should be interested in your campaign. When you figure out your target demographic, say for example, young students and parents concerned about tuition increases and class sizes, you can figure out where they would most likely be acting in an online sense. You can figure out that if your target demographic is more likely to be more engaging in the social media world, say those age 21-35 who are progressive with some sort of blog interaction, that it will be easier to have them buy into and promote your campaign. These elucidations can lead you to the various platforms you should be using and how you should be cross-promoting your campaign between them.
In the preparation step, you also have to start thinking about the timeline of your organization, do you have a big fundraiser that you want to maximize? Are there some key Legislative moves that you need action on from your constituents? Are there specific holidays that you want to capitalize on to gain more attention for your organization? All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when developing your social media strategy. All of these factors, events and actions are things that can create valuable and interesting content for your social media platforms and serve as catalysts of engagement with your constituency.
The preparation step is also the appropriate place to set up your social media guidelines and best practices. This document should be internally developed by whomever is in control of your social media and should be used to teach your employees and volunteers how to effectively and properly interact through social media platforms. It should also be used to set up certain minutia of how to operate and utilize the platforms, such as, your organization should have a minimum of 2 blog entries a week and 2 twitter posts a day.
The real point that I hope can be gained from all this is that each social media plan is unique and has to be, because it is just a tool that will help an organization reach its outreach goals.
When your social media platforms are and have set up your own guidelines and best practices the implementation should be really straightforward but there are a few quick things to remember that will make things much easier in the long run.
- Set up a backlog of blog entries that will post automatically.
- Make sure that your platforms are linked together so that when there is action on one, all are alerted.
- Make sure that you are listed in the appropriate web aggregators such as Dig, Technorati, etc.
- Make sure you attach analytical elements to EACH platform you create that also contains traffic sources information. This is key.
There are two main ways of approaching the launch, the soft and the hard. A soft launch, which mainly consists of edging into the various conversations across the variously platforms in a way to give the impression that you have always been there is very subdued and not really advertized. The hard launch usually is a celebration. "We are here, you should be excited." The hard launch usually is attached to a branding or website redesign and should have a lot of pre-launch promotion and even should include a party of some kind. This can be a huge content generating event and should be joyful; remember, setting all this up should have been a hard and lengthy process so you deserve a party. Again, all of this is highly specialized depending on your own organization, your image and what you want to get out of your social media interaction.
The best way to measure your goals and keep track of your metrics is through analytical programs. There are various free methods such as Google Analytics, or other analytical programs that come with the platform itself but for those with the resources it is usually a good idea to pay for analytic programs, such as Radian6 or Scout Labs or the like. What every your tools are, your social media manager needs to keep at the forefront of new technologies and new methods to find out how you are affecting your constituency.
You have planned, you have launched and you have analyzed. You have had successes and, in all likelihood, some failures in your outreach. This is the point in the process where you are learning from your mistakes, where you already have an idea of where you are going with your next launch. From here, look at where your highest traffic was from and concentrate on that platform. Look at where you are getting the least, examine it, and ask, can this be improved? or should it be liquidated.
These are just brief glazing over of these steps and again, for the third time, each depends heavily on your own outreach plan and goals. In the end, the only one who can tell you how to effectively communication with your constituency is you, others can only give suggestions.