If your small business or nonprofit is thinking of entering the realm of social networking, way to go. Opportunities abound for meaningfully engaging with your customers, clients and other stakeholders. Be aware, though, that although it’s easy to create a Facebook fan page or Twitter account, sustaining an effective social networking presence involves thoughtful planning and likely a whole lot more time that you think it will. Here are some things you should consider before taking the leap.
Choose the right social networking vehicle
Just because you like using Facebook for your personal social networking doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right space for your organization. Do some research about where your audience is hanging out online and match the platform to your business.
Business social networking also must be part of a larger communications strategy. Know what your overall goals are and how social networking will help to achieve those goals. This will help you to choose where to locate your presence as well. Most important, make sure you set up some basic measures so that you can evaluate your efforts.
Start with one and then build
If your organization is new to social networking, it’s better to start with one space and do a good job with it than to try to engage in two or three spaces all at once and risk spreading yourself too thin. There is a bit of a learning curve when getting started and that will add extra time to whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
Plan for the long haul
Social networking is relatively easy and inexpensive and it can be especially exciting at the start. You’re gathering followers, getting a few comments and reveling in the ease with which you can get your message out. Without thoughtful planning, though, social networking can become a burden and difficult to keep up. Most people who start a blog, for example, quit after the first few posts. Sustaining a social media effort takes discipline and a commitment to providing useful/valuable content. If you’re worried about the commitment required, take a step back and re-evaluate your plan.
It’s not all about you
For your social networking initiative to be successful, you need to create a two-way conversation. That’s what it’s all about. So if all you’re blogging or tweeting about is what your organization is doing—linking to your latest media release and the like, you will see your follower numbers stagnate, or worse, decrease.
Take some time looking at how the social media stars in your particular industry do it. It’s okay to promote your own news but if you can involve your audience in that news, even better. Ask them questions, post surveys, generate discussion. Take an interest in what your audience members are doing, comment on their activities on their blogs or fan pages etc. You can’t create a social networking account and expect everyone to just come join the party. It takes a concerted effort to gain long-lasting fans and to monitor your opportunities to engage with your audience.
Plan for the time factor
Social media efforts often take much more time than you think they will when you get started. You need to plan for that as an organization. Obviously, the vast majority of organizations do not have the resources to designate a social media position. However, you will need to make sure the person responsible has more than a passing interest in social networking as well as a reasonable number of hours to attend to it. You may need to hire a social media consultant to help you get started. It would be well worth the investment to ensure you get off to a good start, considering all of the things you’ll need to in order to be effective.
It’s also not a 9-5 gig. Social networks are active around the clock. Conversations on your social networking site can and do happen just as readily on Saturdays as they do on Mondays. Who is going to monitor and potentially respond to that activity?
You’ll need more than one person involved in this effort to cover off sick days, vacations and the like. The last thing you want is for a disgruntled customer to start spreading his unhappiness on your site (and probably others) with no one to respond from your company until after the weekend. Controversy can evolve very quickly online. You need to be ready to respond.
Lots to consider
Part of your planning will need to involve defining your whole approach to social media. How will you use it and for what purpose? How will you respond to possible negative comments on your site? Will you have policies around your staff commenting on your social media sites? How will you define success?
There are huge opportunities available to business and nonprofit organizations within the social networking world. Every organization should consider how it can benefit from these opportunities. However, entering the social networking space is deceptively easy. Technically, opening a Facebook/Flickr/YouTube/Twitter account and getting started is a cinch. Doing it right to meet your goals, on the other hand, involves more than you might think.
If you’ve discovered things you didn’t anticipate upon entering the social media world, I’d love for you to leave a comment on the blog.
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