I've recently attended presentations on social media at which presenters have given the ever increasing list of social media. In virtually every presentation, someone has asked how to choose which social medium to use, when there are so many available.
The best way I know of to determine the best media to use to reach a given stakeholder group is to ask that group which media they use. This is no different for social media than it is for advertising or PR. And though there still are many ideas regarding how best to evaluate the effectiveness of social media, determining which social media stakeholders use is as simple as surveying them.
I refer you again to Groundswell, the excellent book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. They note the importance of gathering "Social Technographics," or information on a target audience's social media habits. Which social media they use? How engaged are they in social media (do they blog, do they post comments, do they lurk, do they not even follow)?
However, I strongly urge you to build a complete media profile. Do not to stop with these "Social Technographics." Ask general media questions regarding stakeholder use of newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Ask where they would expect to find or look for the kind of information you would like to share with them. You may learn it likely will be more effective to use traditional media.
It also is critical that you not do an online survey, unless you have strong reason to believe your entire target group is online (e.g. CIOs or CTOs of hi-tech companies). Use a telephone or mail methodology so you don't mistakenly "learn" everyone you talk to is using the Internet, when in fact, you have only surveyed the members of your stakeholder group who are.
What traditional media cannot do is create the kind of engagement and interaction that is unique to social media. So, if your goal is that kind of interaction, you may wish to look for a way to use social media. The point I'm trying to make is: it won't work if your stakeholders aren't there.
However, you may hypothesize the people you want to reach are likely to use a specific social medium in the near or longer-term future. The research you do may suggest your audience is moving in this direction. In that case, you may want to commit resources to using that medium, but be aware that you are anticipating your audience rather than meeting it.
This is sound advice. I've found organizations think they need to jump on the social media bandwagon and do so without thinking about where their audience is. For example I'm familiar with an organization whose customers are largely over the age of 55 who put itself on Twitter. Understanding what media your audience uses is the key to communication.
Social media has become a big power in this digital world. But it is also true that it depends on the organizational behavior and boundaries. I will research market first and then give my organization a plan how to choose the best medium.
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