Creating a Social Networking Strategy (Part 1)

Steve MacLaughlin - 10.29.2009

This is a follow-up to Creating a Social Networking Strategy (Part 0) that originally appeared on my Connections blog and also as a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog. One of the key takeaways from Part 0 is that once you stop just playing around with social media then you need to start putting together a strategy.

The first place to start is a proven and solid framework for your strategy. That bad news is that most people don't like "strategery" stuff. The good news is that a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done for you.

Charlene Li and  Josh Bernoff's book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies outlines a great strategy that nonprofit organizations can use. Josh was the keynote speaker at the 2009 Target User Forum. You can read an interview and write-up of his presentation on this blog.

In the book, Charlene and Josh recommend using the P.O.S.T. method for putting together your social networking strategy. P.O.S.T. stands for People, Objectives, Strategies, Technologies. And they are meant to be done in precisely that order.

People: Who are you trying to engage? Be specific and prioritize them. The answer can't be everyone.
Objectives: What are you trying to achieve? Is it about listening, talking, or energizing? How will you measure it?
Strategies: What will it look like when you're done? Start with the end in mind and how relationships will change. 
Technologies: What are the tools you plan to use? Don't pick the tools first.

It sounds simple, but it works. Give it a try. Resist the temptation to jump right to the tools. Make sure you understand why you're doing this, how you plan to measure success, and identify your internal champions before you take advice from one of the 857 social media experts out there.

Social media and social networks are fundamentally a communications and relationship building channel. It's just on such a mass scale and full of plenty of sound, fury, and hype that we momentarily think the normal rules don't apply. They still do.

One of the first things that I recommend to nonprofits, after working through a quick P.O.S.T. exercise, is to establish your listening post. Before you dive into the conversation it's a good idea to know what people are talking about. Doing this also helps to acclimatize the people in your organization to how much is already going one in the social media ecosystem.

There may or may not be a lot of chatter about your organization, but there will certainly be activity related to your mission, cause, purpose, etc. It is important to tap into this because people are more interested in what you're actually doing instead of reading your mission statement. Read Frank Barry's blog posts "Set up Your Social Media Listening Dashboard in 30 Minutes or Less" and "I’m Listening, Now What? 5 Tips to Make Your Listening Worth It" to get started listening.

Use your listening posts to help guide your P.O.S.T. strategy. You are very likely to find insights into what topics, trends, and sites are closely aligned with your organization. As you work through developing your P.O.S.T. approach to using social media and networks you're likely to find a few scenarios that bring into question your strategy. Don't panic! There are always exceptions and special cases that come up.

Part 2 of Creating a Social Networking Strategy will cover a very popular question: How many staff members does this all take? Look for that post in the near future.

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