Sunday, January 22, 2012

Social media not tied to strategy will fail

I love reading the many blogs, emails and social media pages I get each day. My favourite are the "top ten best ways to use social media" I see tjhese all the time. Considering how many people have created or read one of these "top tens" you'd think that there would be no one left in the entire non-profit sector who wasn't a social media genius. Obviously, there are still plenty of non-profits who need help with social media, so what gives?

The problem isn't with social media, it's with the non-profits and, to some extent, the mainstream ad agencies they insist on using. These top ten tips actually make sense and in many cases are very helpful. That's not in question. The real problem is that they are done in isolation. They are done without much thought about strategy. That's why they don't work very well and in some cases fail miserably.

Social media is a tool. It is very powerful, but at the end of the day it is just another tool. In most cases, it is not a strategy. And yet, when people read these top ten lists it sounds like one. Facebook can do this. Twitter can do that. Use both and all your communications problems are solved. These are coupled with the myriad number of success stories where a modest sized charity has become ridiculously successful with social media. It makes it appear that social media alone will carry the weight of a non-profit's communications program. For most non-profits, this just isn't true. Social media needs to be part of the mix and may even need to lead the pack, but it can't do everything all by itself.

The real problem with social media is not creating it. It takes a heartbeat to put up a Facebook page. No, the real challenge is integrating it with the rest of the non-profit's communications. The Facebook page has to work with the website and the print materials and the events. There's usually little in those top ten lists that tells you how to do that. It takes a strategy to make it all work. Too often, charities have no communications strategy and that's why their social media doesn't achieve the miracles that the top ten lists talk about. A tool without a plan is like a road trip without a map. You can drive, but you can't easily get where you want to go.

Your strategy must look at the big picture. Who are you targeting? What is your message? What do you want to achieve? It has to figure out how all the pieces fit together. It also has to work out how the strategy will flow across all the tools in the arsenal. The biggest sin when it comes to social media is to treat it like another news feed. Social media has the power to deliver much deeper relationships with your stakeholders, but that won't happen if you just post shortened versions of your media releases to Facebook. Your strategy needs to work out how social media will do what it does best -- engage and interact with your stakeholders. Creating a strategy will be hard and take time, but it is worth it.

So, before you invest more time and effort into social media take a look at your overall strategy. Do your homework and figure out the big picture. When you do, your social media will work better and achieve greater results.




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