Net2 ThinkTank: Key Questions To Ask When Considering Social Media Training & Experimentation

Amy Sample Ward at NetSquared posted the following question for the Net2ThinkTank:

What are the key questions nonprofit orgs should ask to help them determine how to prioritize social media training and experimentation as they do their technology and organization-strengthening planning?

I provide Social Media Training and Coaching to our clients.  While there are many good reasons to make social media a part of an organization’s overall internet strategy, there are plenty of wrong reasons too. Organizations that are unfamiliar with the social media landscape (the majority of organizations) are often initially motivated by the wrong reasons (eg: the executive director heard a story about twitter on CNN, and wants some).   We work with clients to explain the how they may benefit from a social media strategy, and often do that in session that can offer a survey of the available tools and also help answer some common questions that the organization may have before going all in and setting up trainings for staff.  I am the first to admit that social media is not for every organization and we can often figure that out throug an initial session in which we answer the following questions:

  • Goals – Identify the goals of the social media strategy. What do you hope to accomplish by going on Twitter? or FaceBook? Can those goals even be achieved on the sites you are considering using?
  • Who – Who in your organization is going to be responsible for coordinating your social media efforts? Are you willing to budget for their time and commit it for a long enough period for the efforts to pay off?
  • Who – Who is your audience?  This is super important and will have an important impact on the sites and services you choose.  Forrester Research talks about Technographic profiles in the book Groundswell, they get into some detail about how different demographics are likely to engage online.  It is important to consider who your target audience is and how they use the internet and social media tools. Twitter, while wildly popular amongst the more technologically savvy among us, may not be the cornerstone of your campaign if you are trying to reach out to retired people, for example.
  • Sites – Which sites and services are you going to use: delicious, digg, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, etc…

After answering these preliminary questions it is important to consider how the organization may react when “bad stuff” happens.  What if people post negative comments on your blog or FaceBook Profile? What if people misuse or pollute your tag on delicious or Twitter? Will the Executive Director demand it the offensive posts get removed? Will they pull the plug on the program? Social media is not all wine and roses, and if the organization does not have the stomach to handle the potential challenges, it is probably better to not get involved.  The “cost” of pulling the plug on a social media strategy is greater than you might think (not in dollars, but in social capital).

This is why building support within the organization, at all levels (the Executive Director, Communications director and the people who will be tasked with the work) is essential, and a training sessions can help to strengthen it, however it is important to lay the groundword at the Director level types before even beginning to conduct trainings.

CivicActions (as I mentioned) provides Social Media Training, and a program we call Social Media Coaching.  Our coaching program starts with a training that includes best practices for leveraging the selected sites and services, techniques for building networks, finding supporters, and spreading your message.  We then follow up with periodic checkins to evaluate the organization’s success, and make course corrections if certain techniques are working better than others, or if new sites or services appear that might suit the organization better. 

It is important to remember that the social media landscape is continually evolving. When developing a social media strategy or deciding whether to train staff on the use of social media remember that the tools are different than the techniques.  Training should focus far more on the techniques of using social media, not the specific tools (websites and services) because they will always be changing. 

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