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And now to this month's article...
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Social media holds great promise But if you want it to be an effective part of your communications, I suggest you ask yourself a few questions first.
- With whom does your organization want to communicate?
- Why does it want to communicate with them; what does it want them to know or do?
- Do the people with whom the organization wants to communicate use social media?
- If so, does a substantial percentage of them use it?
- How much do they use it?
- How do they use it?
- Which forms do they use?
- Is the kind of communication your organization wants to do appropriate for social media?
- What social media forms or specific venues would be most appropriate for your organization?
- How do we monitor what relates to us and our social media efforts?
- How can we determine the impact our social media programs have had on our target audiences?
The first two -- "With whom does your organization want to communicate?" and "Why does it want to communicate with them; what does it want them to know or do?" -- are the basic questions we need to ask before any formal communications activity. The answers should come from the person or people commissioning the communication -- usually management.
The next set of questions is:
3. Do the people with whom the organization wants to communicate use social media?
4. If so, does a substantial percentage of them use it?
5. How much do they use it?
6. How do they use it?
7. Which forms do they use?
These are questions you can answer by doing a survey of your target audience. In the best of all worlds, you would do this survey by telephone. That way you would not be making the assumption your target audience is online. However, if you are willing to make that assumption, which is usually a fair one these days, you can do the survey online. This likely will be much less expensive than doing it by phone.
8. Is the kind of communication your organization wants to do appropriate for social media? This is a judgment call. There is much speculation about how social media works, and social media means a number of things to different people. What you need to do is think about the communications strategy you think will help you achieve your communications objective. For example, if building a community of like-minded individuals will help you achieve your goal, some form of social media probably will work for you. If you want to send a one way message, social media probably is not the best medium.
9. What social media forms or specific venues would be most appropriate for your organization? This is a judgment call that can be informed. What is most appropriate has to do with what you are trying to achieve, as I discussed under question 8. However, you also could have, in the survey of your target audience you did to answer questions three through seven, a multiple choice question asking which specific social medium might be most appropriate for a communication like yours.
10. How do we monitor what relates to us and our social media efforts? If you care about only a specific set of social media (e.g. a specific set of blogs) you can do this yourself by simply subscribing or visiting them regularly. If you wish to be more comprehensive, there now are a number of companies that provide social media monitoring services including Radian6, BurrellesLuce, Buzzmetrics and a number of free monitoring tools (see this article).
11. How can we determine the impact our social media programs have had on our target audiences? This depends on how you answered the first questions I posed: "With whom does your organization want to communicate?" and "Why does it want to communicate with them; what does it want them to know or do?"
If you know who the members of your target audience are and what you want them to know or do as a result of the social media program, then measuring the effectiveness of the program is as simple as finding out how many know what you wanted them to know or how many did what you wanted them to do.
One of the key challenges in this kind of exercise is you need benchmarks to be able to see if there has been a change. If you wanted the target audience to know something as a result of the program, you could have asked questions to get at awareness in the initial survey we discussed above. That would give you a "before" benchmark.
If you wanted them to do something, you will need to figure out how many did it as a result of exposure to the social media. In some cases this might be easy. For example, if you want them to check out a website, you might create a link in the social media you are using and a special landing page on the website. Then you could count the number of people who went to the landing page. But your actual measurement will depend on the behavior you are trying to induce.
Look Before You Leap
As I said above, social media is full of promise, and it is very tempting to try it out. But if you want it to be an effective part of your organization's communications program, you need to exercise the same discipline planning for social media that you would for any other program.
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Thanks very much for reading. If you have questions you'd like me to address, or other topics you'd like me to write about, please let me know.
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I work with organizations going through a change in strategic direction (merger, acquisition, building program, new product launch, change program, etc.) and that are concerned about what will happen with their relationships with key stakeholders (customers, employees, investors) if they send out the wrong, or confusing, messages. After working with me, my clients have a clear understanding of what their messages should be. I also provide them recommendations on other actions they can take to enhance their relationships with stakeholders.
I also work as a PR and communications research director for hire for agencies and other organizations.
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The Institute for Public Relations, (IPR) is dedicated to the "science beneath the art" of PR. It focuses on PR research and education. If you are interested in the topics I write about, you will almost certainly be interested in IPR. You can find it at http://www.instituteforpr.org/. While you're there, check out the Essential Knowledge Project at http://www.instituteforpr.org/essential_knowledge/.
Forrest W. Anderson
Institute for Public Relations
Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation
Nice post. Informative and to the point. Your clients should definitely ponder these, and other, questions before jumping into the deep end of social media communication channels.
The one question that I've had lots of dialogue with my clients around touches on sustainability: how will the dialogue - and it needs to be a dialogue - be sustained over time? Are you prepared to put resources into this endeavor? And...where's it leading? Additional, future purchases? Referral business? Brand building? Product enhancements? Etc...you get the point.
Again, nice post.
Yours is a great point. Sustainability is a real issue and gets back to the objective of the social media program. If an organization wants a one-time hit, social media may not be the best way to do that.
An interesting piece of research would be to find out how people engaged with an organization through social media feel about organizations that begin conversations in social media and then reduce the frequency or altogether stop making comments.
I wonder if that creates negative feelings or if it doesn't matter.
Forrest W. Anderson
Good post, Forrest. Too many take a Ready, Fire, Aim approach to social media without asking the right questions up front. One dynamic I would add is listening. For most companies just starting out in social media the right advice is to listen to what is being said in social media first rather than worrying initially about what you want to communicate. Listen - Engage - Measure is a simple way to think about social media strategy at a high level.
-Don B @donbart
You are spot on.
I wonder if organizations are very close to the listening idea. The model I grew up in was send the message, usually with very little understanding of the target audience in the first place. I think one of the great advantages of social media is the opportunity for organizations to listen and engage in a conversation. But I wonder how many are actually interested in having that conversation and creating that relationship with stakeholders.
Forrest W. Anderson
Great post. Sound strategy is so key in social media; in fact, taking the time to lay a proper foundation through listening, evaluation, goal setting and resource allocation dramatically increases your chances of succeeding. Social media endeavors need to be given the same consideration as other business decisions, and your post outlines some of the compelling reasons why.
Director of Community, Radian6
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