Without a social media strategy, or a specific section on social media as part of your wider comms strategy, you may be missing opportunities or wasting time and resource on things that don’t deliver real impact.

Clearly, social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube work differently to more traditional media. They can deliver the same messages of course, albeit in different formats or within restrictions (like 140 characters), but they can also do things other channels can’t, and there are some things they just aren’t so well suited to. Crucially, they require acknowledgment of the fact that they demand responsiveness, are community-led, and, well… social. They are also some of the easiest comms channels to monitor and assess impact through, making them hugely valuable in understanding what does and doesn’t work, and being able to quickly adapt accordingly.

But despite being easy and flexible to use, these channels can also absorb huge amounts of time and resource, drawing you into conversations and generating new audiences that will demand more and more attention. All of which underlines how crucial it is that you know what you should be focusing on in these spaces, what will offer most value, and what you should avoid. That’s where your strategy comes in.

How to go about it

A social media strategy doesn’t need to be huge or unwieldy, but it does need to be well thought through. There are lots of ways to approach it, but in the following sections we’ve outlined the steps we usually go through with our clients.

Look at your wider communications objectives (if you haven’t set any, do so now), and your organisational strategy or plan, and consider which of those goals social channels can contribute towards.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can, in some cases, help drive a fundraising campaign (think Ice Bucket Challenge, for example), but not everything goes viral, and ‘asks’ can just as easily go ignored in competitive, fast-moving timelines. Social channels can deliver most value in somewhat ‘softer’ goals, including reaching out to new audiences, establishing new relationships, and building a sense of energy and enthusiasm around an issue, as well as boosting recognition and engagement in a brand. They can also help to demonstrate the impact of your work, particularly where you have video or powerful images to share.

Make sure you have a clear set of measurable, realistic objectives – possibly only three or four – that will allow you to focus on using your social channels for what they are best suited to, and where they will add most value in wider terms.

Now you need to understand who is using your social platforms already, and how they are engaging with you, so you can see what, if anything, might need to change in light of your new objectives.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram… Most social platforms have great analytics behind them, so you can see the type of people you’re attracting and what they do with your content (do they ‘like’ it or share it or follow links to your website, for example?). You also want to know whether there is a gender and age bias to your ‘followers’, what their interests are and where they live (urban areas, areas you do or don’t work in, etc). Build the fullest picture you can and compare this against the audiences you want to target. Because social audiences grow so organically, you may well find there are some big discrepancies or some significant gaps to be addressed.

The platform-specific analytics are best paired with wider tracking – for example, does your fundraising or welfare team ask those getting in touch how they heard about you? How many people say they saw you on social media? If you don’t have these wider checks already built in, now is the time to do it.

Once you understand who is engaging with your channels and how this does or doesn’t match up with your objectives for social media, you also need to have a close look at what you’re posting on there.

Is there a bias to your posts, which might be attracting some audiences more than others? Does the tone of your words and pictures match up with what you want to be able to achieve in these spaces? Are you posting things that drive real engagement and prompt action or are they simply getting ‘likes’ that don’t lead anywhere?

This process needs some objectivity – it can be hard to see a raft of content for what it is, when you know first-hand how much time and effort went into putting it there. Think carefully about how you do this part of the job and whether you need to enlist external help to get the most value from it.

Now you know more about what you want to do and who you want to appeal to, you will need to develop a toolbox containing all the things you need to put the strategy into practice.

This should include a set of core messages for use across your social platforms. These won’t be used verbatim, and will need to flex according to each channel (accounting for the length of messages appropriate on Facebook and Twitter, for instance), but they are vital for ensuring clarity and consistency.

You’ll also need to come up with plans to develop any new content you decide you need, in order to deliver on your objectives and prompt the right responses from the right people. This could be anything from a new photo library of service users and volunteers of a certain age or demographic, to a new animation to explain an area of your work, or a bank of statistics designed up as jpegs to better demonstrate impact.

You should also create a broad tactical plan for the next six or twelve months, so you can look at, and prepare for, key spikes in social media activity, whether they are related to wider campaigns or projects needing promotion, or whether they are specific to social. This plan will help guide your work while you continue to respond to engagements and seize opportunities as you spot them, ensuring balance and strategic focus.

Make sure your strategy is usable, and used

Think about all those who have responsibility for your social media channels – you may have regional teams running their own accounts or different people feeding into the central Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat accounts. Make sure all of them are on board with your strategy, and that they understand how they may need to adapt their work to support it. Consider developing guidelines or checklists to highlight the most important points for them to refer to regularly.

Check you need all your channels

Your strategy might lead you to question whether you need all your platforms. Should every region have its own Facebook page? Do you need to have both Vimeo and YouTube accounts? With social, it’s much better to have fewer platforms that are well-populated and carefully managed, than to be too thinly spread to engage in any meaningful way.

Consider additional training

Do you need more training to get the most from your channels? Do you need a better grasp of Facebook advertising, for example? The basics are fairly easy, but advice on specific tools and add-ons can help you target your campaigns more precisely and avoid wasting precious budget.

Manage risk

If you have staff communicating on social media you should have clear policies in place to guide them on what is and isn’t suitable, as well as a plan for how they, or you, will respond to and manage any criticism or negative situations that may happen within these spaces.

Plan regular reviews

Social media is organic, fast-paced and community-led, so there is nothing to say that what looks right now will still be right in six months’ time. Do your best to make your strategy as robust as possible, but you’ll also need to plan in regular review points, and be willing to adapt things if necessary.

Developing a social media strategy

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