From the old blog.
I’ve recently started a new job, and along with the new colleagues to get to know, the new computer systems and the new tea rules, I’ve also got the opportunity to start up a new social network. It occurs to me that this is a rare privilege. Too often, it’ll be a matter of taking over a Twitter profile or Facebook fan page that someone else has started. Or, even if you have set something up yourself, once a year or two has passed, it’s all too easy to get into the habit of doing what you’ve always done: interacting with your fans or followers in a certain way, writing the same sort of posts, and so on.
The fresh start has allowed me to consider the challenges of social media with fresh eyes, to plan and prepare before I begin. In doing so, I’ve jotted down some questions which may be helpful to others in a similar situation – whether they’re starting a new channel or reviewing something established.
1. What do you want to say (and perhaps, do you have anything to say)?
While I don’t believe in scripting every tweet or having every blog update scheduled and approved months in advance, it can be worth having some sort of content plan. What are the themes you’ll be covering on your channel? Is it for your entire life (if you’re a person) or your entire organisation (if you’re setting up the channel on behalf of one of those), or for a particular interest or project? In the early days, it may help to plan out what kind of updates you’ll want to post and how regularly, and put these dates into a calendar as reminders.
2. Who is your audience?
Once you’ve decided what you want to say, it’s worth working out who (if anyone) wants to hear it. It’s all well and good tweeting your thoughts about what you had for breakfast into the internet void on a personal account, but if you’re doing this as a job, there are likely to be things like targets or KPIs for user interaction (and if there aren’t it might be worth nominating some – see point 5 below). So, who do you want to reach? Are they end-users of your product or service, or other organisations in your field? How old are they? How computer literate? How often do they get online – and when they do, what sites do they go to first?
3. How can you reach them?
One thing I’ve learnt over the past ten years is that, in most cases, it’s far easier to go where your audience are than to get them to come to you. So, thinking about the previous question, how do your audience behave online? Are they on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr? Are they asking questions on Yahoo! Answers? Do they belong to a particular online community? Sometimes it may be easy enough to set up your own profile in these spaces to interact with other users, but in other cases, you may need to get permission from a community moderator or website owner before you make your first post.
If you’re still keen to set up a blog or community on your own website – and there are lots of good reasons to do so – then it’s still worth doing research into how best to reach your audience. Do you see your potential audience members commenting on other blogs? If so, it’s worth noting what sort of posts they feel motivated to comment on, the regularity of the postings, etc. And of course, it’s worth remembering that for a lot of people the internet is still all about email, so building up a list and sending monthly updates remains a perfectly valid way of spreading a message and driving traffic to your website.
4. Who’s going to do the updates?
People say social media is great because it’s free. Technically, in many cases, this is true. However, it doesn’t account for the huge amount of staff time that needs to be spent to set up and maintain a channel. Social media is about conversation. If you go quiet, you’ll be ignored. So, who’s going to do your updates? And who’s going to do your updates when that person is on leave? And who’ll be the person who can provide sign-off on anything controversial or out of the ordinary? Because that’s another side-effect of having a conversation – you’re never 100% sure about what that other person might say.
5. What does success look like?
For some, the opportunity to broadcast a message will be enough. For others, the end goal will be the online conversation itself. There definitely is some reward in being part of a community, in being generous and interacting with your fans and followers, learning from their updates as you shape your own, passing on their messages, leaving comments on their blogs, following them back.
However, for most, there will be some form of measurable action that you want your friends or followers to undertake. This may be visiting your website, signing an online petition, volunteering or donating to your cause, registering for an event or a myriad other options. It is this conversion from conversation to action that, for me, indicates real social media success. It’s what can be monitored as you go along and, through regularly reviewing the answers to the earlier questions, what you can aim to improve.
There’s a real excitement in new beginnings, but what I guess I’m realising anew is that it doesn’t have to end there. I’m looking forward to seeing how this project grows.
Image courtesy of Matt Hamm. Used under Creative Commons licence.