September 17, 2012
With the pervasive infiltration of social media into all aspects of our everyday lives, it is only natural that associations and other non-profit groups want to jump on the bandwagon. Association communities are full of individuals and companies that post tweets, status updates, check-ins, and links to information they find interesting or relevant all the time. They are coming to expect the same from groups they are affiliated with – after all, these days if you don’t exist in the social media universe – at least to some – then you don’t exist at all.
However, simply posting an organizational page, group, or profile does not get the job done, and can often be more detrimental than having done nothing at all. Social media activity, like all other directional aspects of your organization, needs to be implemented and managed under a carefully structured strategy. For purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on LinkedIn, which seems to have established itself as the social media venue for “professional” interaction.
For those who don’t know, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 120 million members and it is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. The basic principle behind LinkedIn is to connect users to a network of industry contacts and to facilitate an exchange of knowledge, ideas, and opportunities. Think of it as a worldwide cocktail reception, minus the cocktails.
So let’s assume that your organization has said “we want to be on LinkedIn.” What next? Well, first off you need to understand why. What is the organization’s goal for their LinkedIn presence? Some potential objectives of a LinkedIn program may include:
- Building network and making professional connections
- Fostering stronger member relationships
- Communicate key organizational messages
- Create discussion forums where you can control conversation and offer solutions
- Disseminate press releases, association news, post marketing collateral, videos, photos, etc.
- Promote association projects and programs
And there are most certainly many more. The key here is to define what you want it to do for the organization, and then to develop the strategies to accomplish those goals. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that without a carefully developed and managed strategy it is very easy to end-up with a stagnant program that ultimately looks worse for your organization than no program at all. Some considerations for your strategy:
- CONTENT: What is it, where will it come from? Will you be relying on the organization staff for content, the volunteers, external sources, or all of the above? What permissions do you need from those sources, and who is managing content to ensure it does not conflict with association policies, copyright laws, or that it does not raise any concerns from an anti-trust perspective?
- FREQUENCY: How often do you want to add new content? Are your sources capable of sustaining the schedule for the long term?
- PROMOTION: What is your plan to build your community? Some groups are fortunate in that they are centered in popular industries or areas of interest, but others may have a more specialized audience and are not nearly as likely to grow organically. How will you let your audience know about your page? Is it closed just to organization members, or is it open to the general public? Will a signature on your emails highlighting the group suffice, or do you need to implement a broader communications effort?
- MODERATION: Good advice in any aspect of life, but here we’re focusing on who will be managing discussions to ensure they stay on-topic and again don’t violate association policies or any relevant laws. We’ve all seen online discussions spiral out of control, and there are people out there who make it a practice to make that happen. Who has their hand on the control for your LinkedIn page? Who will decide when something has crossed a line, and who will delete inappropriate content (and then deal with any potential repercussions from the offending party)? Also speaking from experience, someone needs to manage spam postings. Nothing will dilute message points quicker than spam about prescription drugs or job postings of no relevance to your industry. It is also a good idea to add a disclaimer informing users about the association’s set of rules and guidelines for using LinkedIn. This way, they know what is acceptable and non-acceptable to post.
Finally, an approach to consider when implementing a LinkedIn or other social media program is to engage the professionals. Kellen Communications has a team of professionals expert in social media programs and marketing for associations, foundations, and corporations actively engaging in that space. They have a demonstrated record of success in establishing strategies, building communities, generating traffic, and getting the word out for their clients.
A weak social media program can give insiders and outsiders alike the impression of poor management, lack of focus, non-engagement, and ultimately apathy, whereas a strong program can serve to enhance the membership experience for everyone in your organization or with an interest in your industry, products, services, and/or programs.