How to Succeed in Social Media
Put down your iPhone, close your Facebook profile and stop Twittering for just a second. I have something to say to you, head to head and heart to heart.
Technology is cool. It can be an incredibly effective way to promote your cause. But hard wires don’t necessarily create human bonds. Your social-media strategy can’t simply be a tool set — it needs to be a conduit to living beings. “Java” doesn’t inspire people unless you’re talking about the kind you get from Starbucks. Technology doesn’t compel people — people do.
I’m taking this precious space to make this point because I think it falls under the forgotten fundamentals category that’s the focus of this column. It’s all too easy to fall in love with all the sexy social-media tools out there and forget why people are attracted to social media in the first place. If you don’t stay grounded in the basic human needs that fuel the success of those shiny tools, you will be — in the words of Nicole Engelbert, lead analyst of vertical markets technology at Datamonitor — a fool with a tool.
There are a lot of lengthy and overwhelming definitions of social media, social networking and Web 2.0 out there — pick your jargon. I won’t quote them here. Let me give you my definition.
All that social-media stuff is simply people using the Internet to:
1. Be seen and heard.
2. Connect with each other.
That’s it. And that’s as basic and human as you can get. Social media is about the social, not the media.
Bloggers and vloggers want a platform for personal expression, and they like connecting with people who care about their content. (In case you’ve been living off the grid for the last few years, blogs are personal, online journals/columns. Vlogs are video blogs.) Everyone can be a pundit in the world of social media. Even I have a blog.
Social networkers want a platform for personal expression (think a MySpace page), and they want to connect with others (think online “friends”). So do people (including your kids) who love instant messaging.
Being seen and heard, and connecting, are the needs that drive social media, and they should drive your online outreach strategy, as well.
This should be a relief to all of us who think we lack the technological chops to successfully participate in the online world. You don’t need to be under the age of 20 or an IT director — you just need to grasp what makes it work.
Here’s a six-step way to make that happen. And you need to make it happen. Why? Because online outreach is a cost-effective and efficient way to reach people at a time when we’re all low on resources. Because it’s a way to find new constituencies and reach a new, younger generation of donors. Because giving up control of the message and having a conversation can strengthen your relationship with the people who support you. And if none of that moves you, remember that people tend to donate more money online.
1. Stop! If your executive director is commanding you to start a blog or get a Facebook presence today, stop right there. Spend a bit of time thinking more strategically. You want to figure out who you’re trying to reach online, where they are and how to best communicate with them. If you’re starting a new blog (and there already are tens of millions of them), you want to be sure there’s a case for it.
2. Look and listen! The beauty of the Internet is you can quickly find the people online that are predisposed to your cause. In a world where there are active online communities of people fascinated by medieval pottery or support groups for people struck by lightning (really), there surely is a constituency that loves your cause somewhere out there. Find those people, watch where they are congregating and listen to what they’re saying. This is very easy to do by setting up simple alerts so you’ll be notified any time someone mentions your organization or anything related to your cause online. Check out www.google.com/alerts, and watch lists on www.technorati.com.
3. See and hear! Start acknowledging what potential supporters are saying. Post friendly comments on their blogs with constructive thoughts and useful information, openly identifying who you and your organization are. Bloggers love those kind of comments. They like having an audience! Do the same on online communities, MySpace pages, etc. Give online communities useful tools and interesting content from your organization. Be generous.
4. Choose! At this stage, you’ll have a better sense of whether there’s a need for you to blog or participate more formally in a social network. Be strategic about concentrating your efforts in a few high-yield areas.
5. Be easy to find! Part of social networking is going out and connecting with people. Also make sure your organization’s Web site and social-network pages are easy to find so people can connect to you. Be sure your Web site can be easily located via search engines. If you decide to have a social-networking page, give it an obvious name. Don’t be so clever you don’t show up in search.
6. Ask! Once you have relationships with supporters on social media, give them different ways to help you — not just by giving money, but by telling their stories, spreading the word and expressing their opinions about your issue in their own words. Turn the conversation into collaboration for social change. Give up control. You never had it anyway. FS