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"We want/you need a social media campaign—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+... and... and... and..."
If you have worked with associations within the last 7 years, chances are you have heard this at some point or another in a strategic planning meeting—somewhere. In an age where everything is at your fingertips and people are tweeting about what they had for dinner and checking into their favorite places in a blink of an eye, it has become taboo for someone to admit they don’t use social media in some capacity or another.
However, depending on the association you work for, getting the group to join the 21st century is more like getting a root canal than holding puppies. The challenge is explaining to your board the benefits of having the organization use social media tools, but also wondering how you are going to get a fan base when your members aren’t connected. Essentially, how do you start a social media campaign when your members aren't able to support you, virtually?
Justifying the means—for the naysayers.
The gentle, association staff response: Social media is the ultimate cost-effective grassroots movement—a word of mouth campaign that allows the world (if we want) to “hear” our mission, explore our causes, and essentially learn about our association in a matter of seconds.
The typical board member response: Why not? If we have a chance to get more visibility then let’s do it and if it is good enough for the president, then it is good enough for us. And we’ll hire one of them generation Y people to handle it.
Just under a year ago, the average age of those who were using social media was 38 years old. The largest demographic of people who are using it is 35-44 years of age. So maybe a Gen X-er might be better??
You have a yes. Now, how do you choose the right media outlet for your association?
With any analytical approach to figuring out the answers, we must first ask the Why, Who, What and When of the problem.
- The Why—Why do you want to do this? If your members are using it, chances are you should too, as it adds another way to reach out to your members—and sometimes it is more effective.
- The Who—Who are you trying to reach out to? Who are your stakeholders and what methods do they like to communicate with? And who is going to keep up on this? Do you have a committee or a staff person to take charge of the daily/weekly posts?
- The What—What are you trying to inform your stakeholders about? Your upcoming events, networking opportunities, advocacy issues, member resources, another organization's website? Or all of the above?
- The When—When should I be posting/ reaching out via social media? Regardless of time of day, you should be consistent—once a week, every day, that’s up to you, but once you start, don’t stop. For many members, the association will be the eyes and ears about things of interest to the membership. Helping others to obtain that information can be a valuable role that associations play.
Additional reasons you may want to utilize social media:
- Create a member only site for additional networking
- Create awareness and gain support from an atypical group of stakeholders
- Provide quick tips on an expert area that reach a wide audience in seconds
- Create a forum for members to reach out to each other for resources and issues
- Increase donorship
- Inform the general public about recent or upcoming changes in your industry.
What's in it for 'them' (ROI for both your members and your association)?
So there is always return on investment (ROI)—and it mainly boils down to awareness, increasing your membership and reach. But if they want more reasons, here are additional ideas:
- Member Recognition
- Sponsor Recognition
- Public Recognition
- Increased number of visits to your website
- Increased awareness of both your cause and events
- Increased opportunities for possible grants and donors.
So you have answered the questions and have determined that, yes, you are ready for tackling the exciting world of social media. Now what? It is wise to put together a social media process, as well as a social media policy—how you are going to navigate and implement through this additional communication medium.
Finally, many social media campaigns have failed and many have succeeded. What’s the trick to success? Consistency is everything! If you continually post, comment, reply, mention and follow on a regular basis (again, things that matter to your members), you will gain momentum and you will gain followers/fans. Social media is not for the weak and certainly not for the lazy. My suggestion is to find the member who has a passion for social media (there is always one) and a passion for your organization and ask him/her to be the lead.
Hopefully with these few tips and tricks, you will be on your way to a social media program that you feel fits your organization's needs. Happy posting!
Conni Ingallina is the owner of SOS-Association Management Solutions, an Association Management Company. She has an extensive background in business and business management, including financial, marketing and the automotive industry. For the past 17 years she has been managing state, regional and national associations.
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Click here to read "Social Media Marketing for NPOs: Give Your Organization a Voice" — where Carly Rowe offers advice for building a strong online community.