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Social Media: Tools of Engagment

How does an organization get past its senior executives’ distrust of social media? At many for profits and nonprofits, the Boards of Directors, CEO or Chief Council stand in the way of the meaningful use of social media, fearing its use will result in legal action, especially when the organization is in a highly regulated industry. However, the American Bankers Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association have thriving LinkedIn communities; and JP Morgan and Goldman Sacks have LinkedIn groups. While integrating social media channels into a communications plan is important, it is more about integrating social-based thinking into business processes and culture.

While it isn’t hard to demystify the nature of social networks, it is difficult to change the habits of highly successful executives. The only thing new about social media and its networks is the technology. If you take away the technology piece, and think of social networks in terms of a network of professional contacts who communicate via technology instead of over dinner, social networks become a more familiar concept.

The new twist is the technology that enables social media communications channels, offering efficient collaboration, idea sharing and the ability to strengthen a relationship with the group. The conversation goes on whether an organization takes part or not, so if the organization opts to stick its head in the sand and not take part, it gets left behind.  “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it,” said Erik Qualman, author of the book “Socialnomics.”

Social media isn’t going away, it isn’t a fad. Social media continues to be refined to meet the user’s needs, and most organizations know it is an efficient way to network and do business. Networking is the cornerstone to new business development, and social media provides new networking channels to build a broader base with closer relationships. It closes the geographic gap and expands the universe of participants.

 The Social Nature of Humans Drives Social Media

In the world of nonprofits, the two of the main reasons people attend conferences and meetings are networking and the exchange of new information with peers. Social networks enhance the experience  enable organizations to continue and enhance the relationship after the event. Social media becomes the channel that enables idea sharing, thus strengthening the relationship with contacts. “Organizations don’t have to create social networks; they exist all around us in a variety of forms. Networked Nonprofits strengthen and expand these networks by guiding relationships within them to engage and activate them for the organizations’ efforts,” said “The Networked Nonprofit.”

In his recent post on “SmartBlog for Social Media,” Jesse Stanchak asked Maddie Grant, chief social media strategist at Social Fish and co-author of “Open Community”, “What are the biggest challenges that associations face when they decide to embrace social media?” Grant said that the challenges are, unsurprisingly, the need for social media infrastructure and integration. Associations need to have a clear social media policy; a response triage process for responding to negative comments;  and a plan on how to staff the social media position internally (whether it’s an individual or team). Once the infrastructure and integration is in place, the organizations are off and running.”

“The holy grail of social media marketing is an act that replicates the psychological effects of a great handshake: familiarity, engagement and trust. We’re not there yet. I don’t know if we ever will be. But it’s a worthy goal, because as ever more business is done online, we need to get better at circumventing the emotional distance that the Web creates,” said Stanchek.

Tools of Engagement

Social media is a powerful tool, it fueled the revolution in Egypt, it has the unique ability to mix social with media, which gives social media the ability to both engage and inform. In his recent Ad Age article, "Egyptian Activists Understood Key to Social Media: It's the 'Social,” Bob Garfield points out that “So many marketers and other institutions believe that social media is just one maddeningly inefficient channel for selling their goods, services, politics or whatever. They see only the word ‘media’ and ignore the word ‘social.’ You cannot understand these technologies, much less exploit them, if you do not first understand and internalize the idea that they are not about messaging; they are about relationships. Until you have established one, nobody much cares what you say.”

Social Capital is what a network needs to be successful. “Social capital is the stuff that makes relationships meaningful and resilient. Within such relationships two things generally exist: trust and reciprocity. People do things for one another because they trust that their motives are good and that they will receive something in return some time in the future,” according to The Networked Nonprofit.

Social Capital is important; engaging in social networking to make announcements about your company without inviting comment removes reciprocity from the mix, removing the social from media. Many organizations face the challenge of how to enable engagement when they represent a contentious issue are operate in a regulated environment? One nonprofit overcame these obstacles on LinkedIn by establishing a set of policies and procedures with its legal council that its senior management could live with and then monitored the comments on the site. They also discovered early on in the process that group members were posting product announcements and sales information, so they developed a special promotions section of the site for such offers and kept the main pages of the group specifically for Q&A-type discussions.

Social media is about engaging in a conversation and forming a relationship, it truly is an extension of the professional and personal networks individuals already have. The ability to form and or enhance a relationship is why social media is so valuable for member-driven organizations. Before social media, membership organizations link to members were through marketing products and services and possibly engaging with a member’s senior leadership. With social media, a nonprofit can have relationships deep within organizations, forming important ties and gleaning information on how to best serve the member’s needs on different levels. 

Integrated Strategy, Not a Silver Bullet

While sometimes it is positioned at a silver bullet, social media is really an important component of an integrated communications plan with goals and objectives. With so much frenzied activity regarding social media and social networking, and “experts” setting up shop on every corner of the Internet, it is easy to view social media as the latest shiny thing in communications. Many organizations spend a lot of time and money on social media, taking their eye off the real prize, achieving business objectives. “A key objective will be to effectively educate and integrate social-based thinking into business processes and culture,” said Sue Cartwright, Director of UK-based Unisey Ltd.

Key questions to ask as you integrate social media channels into a communications plan are:

•    What are my objectives?
•    What outcomes am I looking for?
•    How will I measure my results and progress?
•    What are my competitors doing?
•    How will I best present my brand and content?
•    How will I find the right people to communicate with?
•    How will I engage with my connections?
•    How will I nurture collaborative relationships?
•    How will I plan and implement my strategy?
** From Unisey Ltd.

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