Creating Results with Social Media
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CREATING results with social media

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By Darrin Hubbard, CAE, and Laurie Pumper, CAE

Social media use — and the types of media available — continue to explode. The Pew Research Center reports that 72% of adults who are online use social networking sites.1 How can an association stay on top of the rapidly shifting landscape? Taking a team approach helped bring results quickly for clients of Ewald Consulting. The makeup of our social media team has changed since it was originally created in 2008, but the inclusion of people from across job functions was useful as we brainstormed ways that various clients could use social media.

Engaging volunteers through Facebook

Facebook is currently the largest social media platform in use, with more than 1 billion registered users as of December 2012.2 Upworthy, a company that shares content on Facebook and other social media platforms says about Facebook, “If you aren’t there, you lose.”3

Although the demographics are changing, Facebook continues to be popular among younger generations. As part of its strategy to engage students, the Minnesota Pharmacists Association (MPhA) posts photos from events and informs fans about what is happening with legislative and policy issues, among other information. Less than two years after implementing the strategy and regularly posting updates, MPhA has more than doubled the number of people who “like” its page. When information about events is posted on Facebook with a link MPhA normally gets at least a small boost in registration as a result.

Recognition Professionals International (RPI) began using its Facebook page in advance of its 2012 annual conference. Before and during the 2012 event, content on the Facebook page was driven by staff members. In advance of the 2013 annual conference, the RPI executive director encouraged members of the board of directors and the planning committee to post content on the RPI page. The volunteers followed through, resulting in a broader range of photos and broader engagement (through comments and likes) by the membership at large.

With the recent addition of hashtags, searching Facebook posts for relevant content has become easier (as long as your members agree upon and use those hashtags). Upworthy notes that photo posts on Facebook have three to four times the engagement of text-only posts — and that links on photo posts to your content can mean an increase in clicks of 10 to 30%.3

Many organizations have concerns about privacy issues with the use of Facebook. It may not be the right tool for every association, and it is wise to develop a policy for use of the site and to ensure that staff and members know about and understand the policy. An attorney or association management company may be able to help your organization craft a policy. Staff and members should be able to allow the personality of the organization shine through in Facebook posts that represent the organization; you want to be yourself — but you want to be your best self online.

Boosting awareness among non-members with LinkedIn

The Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) is an international association of qualitative researchers who conduct focus groups, online research, ethnographies, and other forms of qualitative research. This organization is constantly seeking out new ways to network with other professionals, vendors, and clients. Several years ago, QRCA saw an opportunity to expand awareness of the organization and developed a QRCA group on LinkedIn. LinkedIn was selected because users of that platform span hundreds of industries from more than 200 countries around the world. At first, the group was restricted to current members of the association; within the first few months of existence, more than 300 members joined.

One benefit of this group is that as people look at profiles and participate on discussion boards, a QRCA logo is visible in the profiles of members. The original members only group got enough attention from non-members that an additional public group was created. The QRCA Board of Directors approved the creation of a public discussion group where current members and the public could interact. In less than one month the group had 470 members; in August 2013, group membership stood at more than 6,100. New discussions are started on a variety of topics almost every day. A volunteer moderator checks these posts to ensure they are related to qualitative research and/or market research.

Because LinkedIn is more “professional” in nature than some other social media sites, many associations have used it to create discussion groups. A newer feature is the ability to create a company page for an association; QRCA is currently building such a page in an effort to leverage its brand recognition even more effectively. LinkedIn has at least 200 million users across the globe.2

Building a strategy team

These are just a few examples of the ways that Ewald Consulting clients are using social media. In 2008, recognizing the need to bring our staff members up to speed on what was happening with new media and to help our clients use a variety of media effectively, our company organized a strategy team to work on the issue. Our Vice President for Communication & Technology headed the team. While three of the original team members represented the Communication & Technology Department, we also involved two staff members from Member Services, one from our Public Affairs/Government Relations Department, and one of our account executives. The cross-department nature of the team allowed us to consider a broader range of ideas and concerns than may have been possible with a team comprised solely of a single department.

Our first few meetings were devoted to brainstorming ways that various clients, departments and the company as a whole might use social media to good advantage. We looked at examples of what other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies were doing already, and thought about how they could translate to our situations. Team members were assigned tasks between meetings. We developed model policies, then picked several projects that could easily be accomplished. If a project met with success with one organization, it was often easy to replicate it for another association; LinkedIn is a good case in point. LinkedIn groups are very easy to set up, and provide a good way for members and nonmembers to network.

Another relatively easy project was developing RSS feeds for many of our websites. A few staff members were assigned to research sources of information that would apply to various organizations. For instance, members of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) are interested in extending broadband internet service to all corners of Minnesota — and in the use of smart phones, VoIP, and news about telecommunication companies. Using Yahoo Pipes (an open source tool), MTA has a section on the home page (www.mnta.org) where headlines from a variety of news sources can be accessed. This strategy has been implemented for many of our clients.

We continue to use (and experiment with) other social media platforms. Our Government Relations team has used Twitter as a tool to keep members informed of action at legislative hearings and other meetings; for those members who use Twitter, it is a quick way for us to communicate with them.

As the initial implementation of strategies was completed, our internal team evolved. We now have a smaller staff team, but more of our clients have committees that integrate social media into their work plans. If more than one committee within an association uses social media as part of its strategy, it’s important that someone (whether volunteer or staff) can coordinate among the committees to avoid silos of information or volunteers working at conflicting purposes. Our staff social media team continues to explore newer social media platforms, evaluating how each might be used to best advantage with a particular client.

Measuring results

Most social media platforms provide ways to measure your impact. Beyond simple “likes,” Facebook can show how many people saw your post. LinkedIn provides useful demographics about members of a discussion group. When we post a message on one of these platforms about an event, it’s easy to check our registration report to see what the impact has been. If a Facebook post goes up one day, a LinkedIn announcement goes out a few days later, and an email to members is sent a few days after that, how does each impact registration? If your website allows you to send different messages to samples of your audience, test how a particular audience responds to different headlines. Or perhaps use different promo codes to test how people respond to your messages on different platforms. Based on what you know about the demographics of users on various types of social media, experiment with different images or text to see what resonates best; you may need to use a slightly different message on Facebook than on Twitter (even though it is very easy to post the same message on both platforms at the same time).

Key take-away points

  • Use a cross-department, cross-function team to research and recommend social media use for your association; it helps to promote healthy discussion and to develop a plan that has buy-in from all parts of the staff.
  • Have a member of top management involved. That team member can help to champion the work of the team with other staff and key volunteers.
  • Set a date when the team will complete its work (and steps along the way). It’s often easier to recruit team members when they know the scope of the work is limited.
  • Once you’ve established that a particular tool might be useful for your association, work with volunteers through the appropriate committees to implement the project. It’s essential that volunteers are on board with new projects/features, and they may expand on an idea or provide concerns that staff hadn’t considered.
  • Assign someone to measure use of the new tool to determine how it is being used, and whether modifications are needed. Assign someone to maintain the project, if needed.
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