Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Social Media: Planning for Success

By Lizzy Scully
Social Engagement Manager
Office of Alumni Relations

If you run a business or other organization, you can no longer afford to ignore social media when creating your marketing plans. Thousands of your potential customers (your future “fans”!) flock to social media sites. In fact, more than five million people actively use Facebook now, with 50% signing on daily(1). Plus, more than six million people utilize Twitter. Social media sites have proven to be one of the most significant ways you can engage your customers or constituents. When the Office of Alumni Relations first embarked on its social media journey, we spent extensive time researching what other colleges and universities were doing and we formulated an extensive plan accordingly. Here are seven tips & tricks we learned along the way:

Planning: Do significant planning prior to launching any social media plan or starting your social media sites. As with any marketing/public relations plan, define your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Who are your fans (i.e. who do you want to engage)? Do some research on which sites might best fit your needs. I have discovered that Metro State alumni use LinkedIn to communicate about career-related topics and to network with each other, while they check out Facebook to link to event coverage or fun articles about other alumni or faculty/staff members. They also regularly read our Job Blog, which has job listings and helpful career advancement tips.

Voice: Establish the “voice” of your social media sites. Typically, social media sites offer a more personal, in-depth perspective of your business/organization, while your website has static, tidy information. (For more on types of voices you can use, click here). The Office of Alumni Relations maintains professionalism in that we treat people who visit our sites respectfully and as we would if they came into the office. However, we have balanced that with informality. For example, our responses to people who pose questions, suggestions, or musings are informal and friendly. As well, we post fun, interactive articles and videos on our blog that aren’t necessarily perfectly well made.

Coordinator(s): After you figure out your “voice”, choose one or more coordinators who will regularly post on the social media sites you utilize. This person should not hide behind an alias, but should be open about his/her relationship with your business. I am the main person posting on the Office of Alumni Relations social media sites and interacting with visitors. I strive to establish trustful relationships with our visitors, and have developed numerous in-person relationships with people. Even if I never meet someone in person, my goal is for that person to feel welcomed to all of our social media sites. On the other hand, you don’t have to mix business with pleasure. It is not necessary for you to invite all the fans on your Facebook Fanpage to be “friends” on your personal page.

Listening: Cultivate relationships with your constituents. In order to be effective with social media, you have to regularly engage your fans, which means posting daily or weekly, answering questions posed by fans, and addressing issues they bring up. I check all the social media sites five days per week. If a negative comment surfaces, for example, I can address it immediately. (Read more on tips for addressing negative comments here).

Flexibility: The beauty of social media is its flexibility. If something isn’t working, you can change it instantly. Build all your social media sites and then see which ones are most popular, and then modify your activities accordingly. We discovered that our MySpace page and the LinkedIn page we created were both mostly worthless. However, I found and began to participate on an unofficial LinkedIn page that was far more active. I befriended the alumnus who created it, and now we manage it together. We have regular interactions, and new people joining every day!

Analyze the data: Dozens of analytics tools exist that can help you track traffic to and from your websites. The Office of Alumni Relations currently uses Google Analytics and StatCounter on our website and blogs, and to shorten and track our URLs. None of these programs are perfect, so utilize many and analyze all the results. By doing so, you will figure out what links are being clicked on most and what people avoid, thereby refining how you distribute your content.

Integration: Finally, to be full successful, your social media strategy must be integrated with and supportive of your overall marketing plan. One of our most successful endeavors this year was our Official College Ring Launch and Facebook Ring Contest. The contest drew in plenty of contestants because it was a fun and engaging way of finding out why people loved Metro State. We asked people to tell or show us why they loved Metro State. This resulted in people posting poems, stories, and great photos about their experiences at Metro State on our Facebook fan page, which in turn drew more people to our fan page. However, it was only part of a greater strategic plan that included advertisements in the College newspaper, flyers, mailings, emails sent out to students, and plenty of social media notifications.

These are just a few of the things you should consider when launching a social media plan. For more information of if you want to ask me any questions based on this article, come to the LAS Lunch & Learn on Tuesday, August 10th. For more information or to register for the event, click here.

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