Social media – what to think about before you start

Before you set up your Facebook page or post your first Tweet, there’s some key questions you should be asking. Take a look at the list below, and take the time to think clearly about your approach to social media.

1. What’s the point? - Commit to the conversation

Social media isn’t something you can dip in and out of. If you make a start you need to commit to an ongoing conversation. It could be the beginning of some rather beautiful – and fruitful – relationships.

2. How does it fit in to my organisation? - Make it central to your communications

Social media isn’t an ad hoc tack-on to your ordinary communications, marketing or fundraising activities. It can be highly effective in all of these areas, but only if it’s integral to your thinking and your wider strategy.

3. What am I trying to achieve? - Have a goal

Think carefully about what you want out of social media. Do you want to raise your profile, talk to your customers, or make friends with potential partners or funders? Set yourself some clear goals, and make them measurable. This could be a number of followers or likes, number of interactions or conversations.

4. Who’s doing it? - Empower your people!

Responsibility for social media shouldn’t lie only with your press office or marketing manager. It’s great to have an ‘organisational’ page or profile to talk about the stuff you’re doing, but it works best when individuals make individual connections. Your CEO, for example, will make different relationships posting as themselves than a marketing manager posting as the organisation. You’ll have a bigger impact if you empower key people (or even everyone!) in your organisation to have their own voice, interests and opinions.

5. Who are we? - Know yourself – and have a personality!

It’s great to have people posting on your behalf, but make sure everyone involved in social media is involved in your organisation! They’ve got to know what you stand for, and be prepared to stand up and shout about it. They don’t need to stick to specific key messages, but they do need to share and understand your organisation’s core values. However, make sure consistency doesn’t become boring! Don’t be afraid to have a personality – even the organisational profile can have a unique and interesting voice. The more interesting your posts are, the more people will read them.

6. Who am I talking to? - Know your audience

Think carefully about who you want to talk to, and what they want to talk about!

7. Where should I be talking to them? - Choose your platforms

Once you’ve decided who you want to talk to, think about where they are, and what platforms or websites they use. Pick one or two key places where you want to start your conversations – don’t overstretch yourself by joining every social network or relevant forum out there!

8. How am I going to fit it into my working life? - Go mobile, and collate your feeds

Social media has got to be something you do regularly, and that means it’s got to become part of your daily routine. The best way to fit it in is to go mobile! Download the right App onto your phone and let people know what you’re doing as you do it. Get involved in conversations as they happen – wherever you happen to be! Another top tip is to use an interface like Hootsuite (www.Hootsuite.com) or TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) - where you can look at lots of different social media feeds from one place, and even schedule your posts in advance.

9. What am I going to say? - Listen, learn and chat – DON’T SELL

Social media is not a sales channel. This is a two or more way conversation and you are an expert with an opinion, not a salesman with a product. If you just broadcast your messages people will stop listening to you pretty fast. If you don’t know what to say at first, just listen. Join in the conversation when you’re ready.

10. How will I know if it’s working? Keep a track

Once you’ve set your goals, measure your progress against them. See what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly. You can use TweetGrader to work out how effective your tweets are, and TweetReach to see how far your tweet went. Klout (www.klout.com) and How Sociable (www.howsociable.com) measure your social media impact across several different channels at once, and Twenty Feet (www.twentyfeet.com) brings everything together for analysis. Topsy (www.topsy.com) also lets you track your hashtags and creates graphs showing your impact. You can also use Bitly (www.bitly.com) to give any links you include a short and unique name, and track the click-throughs to your site with Google analytics (www.google.com). Find out more about all of these tools on Community How To – www.communityhowto.com!

11. How do I handle the negative stuff? Keep an eye out, keep calm and keep talking

If you don’t keep an eye out on social media, the conversation will carry on without you, and could even end up being about you. Not everything everyone says is always going to be supportive! Lots of people are put off social media because they’re worried about negative comments – but don’t be. Handling the negative stuff well actually boosts your brand, and can gain you major kudos points. Be calm in the face of criticism, accept others’ opinions, and keep talking to your critics. You may never agree, but by being open, honest and transparent you can agree to disagree. Remember, you can always politely disengage with rude or abusive comments.