Why does your association need to use social media? In 2017, when virtually every organisation has a social media presence on at least one platform, this question might sound ridiculous. Yet surprisingly few association executives can actually answer it. Sure, you have a presence. You need a presence. But what purpose is it serving? What goals is it helping you achieve? Why do you spend valuable time and resources on social media activities?
SOCIAL MEDIA AND MEMBER ENGAGEMENT
People tend to focus on choosing the best social media platform to use and deciding how often to use it, rather than examining the objectives they would like to achieve through these actvities and the role social media might play in the overall member engagement strategy.
Social media is often seen as just another media to translate messages and promote services. While this is true, it’s also a view that ignores the larger, more exciting potential of your online presence. The main role of social media is to encourage participation, provide consumers (or members in the case of associations) with interactive experiences, and drive conversations. Social media can form a significant part of your member engagement strategy, providing you with another tool to connect proactively with your members.
In other words, social media is a more developed tool to perform what associations have been doing for decades – connecting people and giving them opportunity to network. Professionals use social media to read and create content (industry papers, blogs and podcasts, white papers etc), to connect and network (LinkedIn, Twitter), to collaborate (collective professional resources, online community platforms and LinkedIn groups) and to react (professional forums, policy discussions).
In her book Groundswell, Charlene Li describes five main objectives that organisations can pursue utilising social media tools.
- Talking. Using social media to spread messages about your association, including event announcements, sales, renewal reminders etc. This is the most basic and easy way to utilise social media. It’s only a part of your general communication strategy and doesn’t require too much moderation and involvement.
- Listening. Monitor the conversations of your members in other social media, learn about their needs, and seek their feedback on industry events, including your own. Observing your members in other social media threads can help you find ideas for new events, industry speakers, current topics for discussion, and better ways to organise your own social media presence.
- Energising. Engage with your active members and encourage them to promote your association and its offering. We recently wrote a blog about how to let your members do your marketing job for you.
- Supporting. Set up social media and online communities platforms to help your members support each other, share ideas and career advice.
- Embracing. Let your members participate in the development of your services and events, ask directly about their needs and suggestions for future events, speakers or publication topics.
4 STEPS TO MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS
The questions is how do we move from one-way promotional messaging to meaningful conversations?
Here are the first steps to creating your social media strategy.
- Determine your goals. Going back to the start of the article – it is crucial to understand Why. Why does your association present on one platform or another? What target audience are you trying to reach? Are you trying to reach as many potential members as possible to recruit? Or are you trying to promote your events? Do you want to engage more with current members and offer more value in their membership packages? Or are you trying to obtain member insights about hot topics in the industry and identify potential themes / key note speakers for future events and publications? Are you trying to initiate an industry discussion? While all these objectives seem important, don’t forget to evaluate your resources first. Each objective may require a different approach, different social media skills and a different level of engagement from your staff.
- Know your members. Learn what your members already do in social media and what they need. In what groups are they participating? What kind of content are they interested in? What are they ready for? Are they active contributors to social media with their own blogs? Will they be interested in a new platform? Will they have time to read it?
- Plan. Create a plan for your social media activities and stick to it. Only now is it time to think about what platform to choose, what content to create and how much time to spend on your social media activities. Active interaction is not something that appears overnight or even a month after you’ve published your first post. You need to develop trust and constantly provide your audience with valuable content to keep them engaged and encourage them to recommend and promote you.
- Evaluate and learn from your mistakes. Constantly review the results of your efforts and revise your strategy. What content is the most successful? What platforms work for my audience? Do we add any additional value with our content? Did we reach the audience we expected to? Are our social media activities aligned with our general strategy? Do we have enough resources to manage the community and respond to their requests in a timely manner?
When thinking about social media, it’s easy to get trapped in the technicalities of the process and forget about the bigger picture … the WHY. Platforms are only the tools that help you reach your target audience and make the conversation happen. But before you start talking, you need to understand the interests of your audience, plan your speech and consider the questions that are likely to follow.