You don't need to go far to find a social media expert.
The past three years have seen an explosion in blogs offering tips for success ranging from increasing your sales to establishing a viral presence.
This is not one of those blog posts.
I've spent the last three and a half years testing social media strategies and I've tried hard to make our findings public and to contribute to the exchange of knowledge.So with that in mind, here are 5 steps to starting a social media program
The most important thing you need to know when setting up a social media program is that social media is a technology of "exchange". When you start using it you're asking people to invest their time in your thoughts and ideas. Somewhat like a puppy, once you have your audience's attention, you can't just go on holiday and ignore them.
Step#1 Be frank
(Magdalen Street Oxford)
An exchange is a two (and often three) way relationship. This can be difficult for organizations to come to terms with. Before you embark on any social media initiative you must have a conversation with your colleagues. You need to get all those thorny issues out in the open- you know the ones...
- What about our authority?
- What happens if people say/add inappropriate content?
- We're the experts Here, why would we ask for other's opinions?
I'm guessing that you can add at least another five questions to this list.
It doesn't matter how you approach this question, the underlying principle of "exchange" must be central to your response. If you're not ready to exchange knowledge, thoughts, ideas, comments, critiques, content, then you're not ready for social media - and that's ok. If you are ready to exchange some things and are willing to see what happens, then read on!
Step#2 Become a lurker
I wouldn't recommend stalking but I do know the value of lurking. There are a lot of people online and for the most part, they offer something unique. Think about who your organization might want to target to set up an exchange.
For instance, in this blog I talk about the connections between cycling, design and culture. I've spent the past four months reading other people's posts, retweeting interesting articles and thanking people I've never met, for following my posts. During this time I've come to know who the excellent bloggers are, where the pressure points in the urban cycling community are and how this network promotes both active lifestyles and urban regeneration. By lurking, I've come up with a list of bloggers who I now know are engaged, well-connected and interested in the same sorts of things that I am interested in.
Sometime in the near future I'll ask these bloggers to review content and in return will offer them samples of work. If I'd tried to find these influential people 10 years ago, it would have been very difficult. Today I can get a really good idea of what an individual organization can offer just by following their digital footprint.So, don't stalk, but do lurk. It's amazing what you will discover!
(The Strand, London)
Step #3 Do a credit check
In the early days of social media we used to talk about how easy it was! It didn't take too much time, didn't require too many resources and you could get results pretty quickly.
Three years ago that was true.
I don't believe it is any more - unless you're Justin Beiber of the last Harry Potter film.
So before you embark on your social media program have a look around. Who will be part of this communication program? Where and how will people contribute? Remember, one person doesn't have to do everything. Delegation is an excellent strategy when setting up a social media program. Think about how you can embed this communication rather than making it an extra job. It's only when social media becomes part of your everyday job, rather than an added extra, that you can be sure of long term success!
Step#4 Don't be afraid of commitment
Today, we need to be much more strategic about where and how we communicate. There is a lot of noise out there and it's easy to get lost in the hype. So here are my three tips for thinking about what you might use, why and how you would use it! You can put this into the context of exchange by reading this post on why social media is like a bank
When you’re trying to reach out to defined audiences, not necessarily asking audiences to participate in the creation of new knowledge, what you’re really doing is publishing. You’re pushing content out, and so something like Twitter works really well because you can advertise what’s happening in your organisation, you can link to other sites; you can re-tweet other people’s information. You’re not really asking a lot of people at this level. Each of these activities demonstrates the value that you bring and that you are worth engaging with.
When you actually want to SHARE knowledge between lots of people, you’re looking for an EXCHANGE. That exchange could be an exchange of knowledge, but it could be an exchange of services. Here, you’re asking people to be more connected to what you’re doing and therefore it establishes an expectation that you will also contribute something to them. You’re asking people to INVEST in what you are saying, offering and doing. Participation requires a bit more of a commitment than engagement and because of this you need different platforms. For instance Flickr is a good community for Photography and YouTube for video-makers. Facebook is more of a network than a community and you can link to others in the network to promote both your services and theirs. LinkedIn is great because you’re able to provide in-depth knowledge and set up questions, asking people to participate in seeking answers.
Co-creation is the most difficult, the riskiest, most costly social media and requires most commitment from everyone involved. For instance: if you’re an organization trying to create a new organisational structure, you need people not just to engage in the structure or to participate in discussions, but you’re asking them to co-create a new structure. That means that you need to have that real commitment across the organization. This type of intensive commitment tends to happen less on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or blogs and often requires more bespoke systems.
Step#5 Get nightlife working for you
Once you've been through the first four steps you should have a table which lists where and how you will use social media. You need to asign weekly tasks to individuals to ensure that this program will work. It's also important to schedule your activities so that you can reach an international audience. There is little point in tweeting during your day time if half of your followers live in a different time zone.I'd recommend you look at HootSuite. This is a twitter aggregator which allows you to schedule your communications. So while you're asleep, the owl is working for you.
By following these five steps you'll be able to set up your social media program. Test it out, refine it and let it evolve. There is so much value in this form of networking if, and only if, you're ready and willing to exchange!