No more waiting in the weeds: Make time to grow your social media garden

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find her at SocialFuse.

gardenI recently read Josh Catone’s Mashable post on the “5 Essential Tips for Promoting Your Charity Using Social Media.” I applaud Josh’s concise synthesis of the basic-level concepts defining social media. But I really think it’s time to help organizations get specific and tactical. We need to move from musing to mastering. Many of the organizations I advise are still befuddled and overwhelmed by social media. They seem to view social media as some separate, daunting frontier they need to confront and invade. However, in many ways, social media is really just a new, better way of helping nonprofits do what they do best – engage. It’s made for us! We need to move the conversation from “Why should we?” to “How should we?” It’s now more of a functional shift than a philosophical one. Josh’s recommendations are well-taken and commonly held. Yet, here are some additional thoughts to ponder to take your strategy to the next level:

Build a Plan and Work It.
Josh instructs that you’ll get a much better return on your investment in social media if you take the time to actually engage your followers, friends, and constituents. He warns that we should not just broadcast information. We should consume it, as well. Indeed, this is the way social media works, but the question is – How do we work this? To foster relationships, organizations need to officially delegate responsibility for regular care, feeding, and cultivation of online communities to staff, trained volunteers, or perhaps, an outside agency or consultant. Simply creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile will not produce results. Start by assessing the following:

• Your Goals – SEO, PR, traffic (to drive awareness? advertising click-thrus? conversions?)
• Your Audience – Where do your constituents/stakeholders live? What do you want them to do?
• Your Resources – You, interns, staff, agency, consultant? Budget? Communication tools?

Social media is organic – much like a garden which must be regularly tended and even weeded. It’s all about activity and careful attention. Here are some specific tasks to help your garden take root and thrive:

• Create and update blogs and tags at least once a week.
• Respond to all blog comments within 24 hours.
• Pose questions in and respond to queries in relevant Linked In discussion groups.
• Tweet at least once daily and retweet (RT@) content relevant to your mission.
• Respond to Facebook comments promptly, and update Facebook status at least daily.
• Post high-value content, such as videos, articles, and blogs across key social media platforms.
• Identify the A-List blogs and cultivate positive relationships with as many as possible to persuade them to blog about your issue. Or guest blog for them.
• Drop html links with target anchor text related to a specific call to action, relevant product, or web resource for an additional SEO lift and traffic increase.
• Start and update a custom, branded community such as Ning to drive engagement and enhance SEO on your own site.

Create a Human Persona.
Social media is your opportunity to put a face on your organization and to humanize interaction. Those who are immersed in social media are not really looking for a press release or canned “mission statement.” They are hungry for intimate, behind-the-scenes, authentic access. Think about ways to make the private public. This is the messaging that will attract and embrace.

Create Valuable Content.
Josh recommends sharing only the highest quality content. This is key. I was speaking with a friend just today about the challenge of being inundated with information. With so much competition for the attention of constituents, you need to make sure the content you publish and share is relevant and real. So, be sure to consider the context and the medium. Perhaps, consider experimenting with videos on your website – feature video testimonials from donors and/or recipients. Social media is about storytelling – truth that touches the heart.

Create Community Instantly
Social media gives you the power to spread information quickly. Using social media platforms to issue a call to action online can trigger viral campaigns rapidly, economically, and effectively – enabling you to reach new audiences. Plus, using tools, such as #hashtags on Twitter, can help you create improvised communities around issues on the fly. Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They’re like tags on Flickr, but you add them directly to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag. Read more about them on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Create a Social Media Culture.
Just as everyone in a healthy organization is a salesperson, everyone in your organization should help cultivate your social media presence. As Josh says, if everyone at your charity is connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll be able to engage many more people than if just a couple of folks are tasked with using social media tools. But, in the realm of the tactical, you should not expect this to “just happen magically.” Create a social media policy – even if it consists of a simple public relations calendar of messages, events, or campaigns to discuss organization-wide. Include your staff, donors, and even recipients. And don’t forget your board of directors. Nonprofits are constantly seeking ways to engage boards in resource building, and social media is a great way to involve boards of directors – especially when it comes to tapping into their potentially powerful spheres of influence.

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
-Voltaire

How are you cultivating your social media garden? What’s helping you thrive? Let me know if you need help planting the seeds. Find me at SocialFuse.

The Tweet Life: Ambient Intimacy and other Epiphanies

twitter6To say Twitter is hot would be quite the understatement. In a world thirsty for leadership, everyone seems to be following these days! In the past week, I have attended some interesting presentations on the Internet and making sense of social media for business. It’s a reality and a resource—no doubt, but there is still rampant confusion about how to optimize it. I am very interested to know how you view social media and use it.

I met a true social media master this week—Ben Smithee. He is an astute Gen Y entrepreneur steeped in the savvy of social media—particularly for market research. He says no one has ever called him a guru, but I certainly would. Ben has an impressive grasp of all the latest and greatest tools. Regarding Twitter, he recommends we not Tweet as a business, but as a human voice. Make your messages personal, conversational—not institutional or programmatic. Interact with customers, donors, or clients as individuals, not a solid mass. It’s Communication 101. Make it intimate. In fact, I absolutely loved Ben’s term for social media—“ambient intimacy.”

And then, it hit me! That’s the magic of social media. It permeates our everyday lives. Call it habit or even addiction, as some have. For many, social media can become part of their everyday unconscious impulses. That why we need to pay attention to this stuff. We can actually use Twitter and other social media tools to enhance intimacy with patrons, donors, customers, or clients by humanizing your missions and our value propositions. Focus on the anecdotal—on stories with authentic fiber, as opposed to carefully crafted messages. It takes so much more than an understanding of the tools and technology that power social networks to inspire change and build long-term, meaningful relationships. You must immerse yourself in the conversation.

You are the personality and the soul of the brand you represent. Think of social media as the page where compose the poetry to inspire. These tools are born from technological advances, but they are rooted in the most basic elements of human communication—conversation, curiosity, caring, and connection. I guess you could call them the four “Cs” of social media—a girl’s (or boy’s) “second” best friend, I suspect. Here are a few more tips and concepts for your Tweet Sheet:

Tweet. Message to your followers.
Retweet. Share status messages on Twitter. It’s a great way of building relationships.
@Replies. Direct a message that is available to all. Great way to lift others up.
#Hastags. Create ways to search and group information/initiatives/activities.#MoRanch
Promote your blog or podcast. But try to do it conversationally. Ask people what they think or pose a rhetorical question. Don’t just SPAM the URL. Also, be careful about headlines or questions that are TOO provocative. I have learned this the hard way. Sometimes it’s best to leave your clever copywriter hat in the closet and just be REAL.
Follow a specific cause of entity. Consider finding the right people tweeting about that cause or entity, and build a blended dashboard tool such as Hootsuite.
Understand how people are really using Twitter. Monitor the @ replies, and see how they interact with others. Some folks use Twitter like a megaphone, and others use it like a walkie-talkie.
Make business connections. As always, listen first. Learn more about the person, follow their links, read their blogs, and get to know them. As I have said in the past on my blog, it’s a courtship. You date before you marry. In this space, you listen, respond, and participate—before you pitch or solicit!
Create a tweet strategy. Instead of tweeting “what are you doing?” try “What are you passionate about?” The answer to that could be very interesting and revealing.

And for nonprofit causes, hashtags have become an effective tool in building awareness and motivating action. They make it easy to search and identify a particular trend. Blame Drew’s Cancer http://blamedrewscancer.com/# (hashtag: #blamedrewscancer) is a great example. Drew Olanoff recently contracted Hodgkins Lymphoma, and launched his campaign. The tweets are pulled into http://www.blamedrewscancer.com with the goal that their sheer volume will trigger a large donation from a nonprofit organization. The site recently announced that Livestrong will be a partner.

So, get creative! And let us know—what’s working for you? Follow me.