If you’re responsible for social media in your work – or perhaps you have a team where everyone ‘does a bit’ of it – it may well prompt mixed feelings. You love it, because it’s a quick and easy way to reach people, form connections and keep up to date. But you hate it, because you feel the pressure to keep checking and posting, keep informed and informing. This blog, first published in Sounding Board, the magazine for community musicians, shares advice to help you think about the purpose of social media for your organisation or small business.
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Most of us are confident social media creators and consumers in our personal lives, but when it comes to using it for work, it throws up so many questions. We’ve seen recently how important the digital world can be in helping us to connect, break down barriers (for some), and reshape what we do. And many of us have had to rely on social media even more. Yet we’re often not clear on exactly what role it should play in our communications. I tend to break this down into four areas.
What’s the point of social media?
Firstly, social media is great for AWARENESS and extending your reach. That’s because to a certain extent, your followers do the work for you: each time they like, comment on or share your post it’ll be seen by some of the people that follow them too. This is the first stage of building your relationship with your stakeholders.
What’s really important next is to go beyond who you are and what you do, to how and why you do it – so the next purpose is to deepen your connection with your stakeholders and grow THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF YOU. Because of its immediacy, frequency, and ability to open up direct conversations in real time, as well as share multi-media content, social media is a really effective way to give people insights into the type of organisation you are. This helps people to begin to know, like, and trust you, and in doing so build an emotional connection.
The other social media ‘superpower’ is that it gives you an easy and effective way to build YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THEM through encouraging conversations and interaction with you (and even with others in your audience/community). This has a number of benefits. It can help you get a sense of their views and opinions and what content they do/don’t like (ie their needs and interests); it can help you to do research and consultation; and it’s a way of providing customer service, responding to queries and solving problems. In some cases, it can help build community – eg in the case of Facebook groups.
TIP: Encouraging comments and conversation is one of the most important things you can do on social media, as well as prompting other interactions such as reactions, link clicks, @tags and shares. And that’s because each platform uses automated rules called ‘algorithms’ to sort posts and decide which to show to your followers and their followers.
If the algorithms aren’t seeing people interacting on your platform, they’ll label your posts, and perhaps your account as a whole, as ‘not interesting’ and will show it to fewer people. Sometimes if you haven’t had engagement on a post for a while, even your keenest followers will stop being shown your posts.
The fourth and final reason for using social media is to prompt some kind of ACTION and further commitment. That could be driving people to your website so they can find out more and take action to do something (eg download a brochure, book for something, join your mailing list, watch a video). Or it could be picking up the phone or clicking a link to email you or subscribe to your enews.
Hopefully you’ll already know who you want to communicate with on social media and what you want your communications to achieve overall (if you don’t, read my articles on communications strategy and planning in the last two issues of Sounding Board). The next step is to consider why people will people will want to follow you.
Why will people want to follow you?
In the early days, organisations used social media as a broadcasting tool. Audiences used to follow in order to simply hear about what an organisation was doing and what it had to offer. Now, communications are much more focused on the audience: understanding and responding to their needs. And in some cases, particularly on social media, that can be basic human needs like belonging, connection – or what they really care about.
- Social interaction
- Surveillance/knowledge about others
- Expression of opinion
- Information seeking (incl self-education)
- Information sharing
- Communicatory utility (eg getting info to friends quickly)
- Convenience utility (eg shopping)
- Passing the time
If people are looking to social media for these uses and gratifications, it makes sense to give them what they want, so they’ll be more likely to engage with it. Some of the most effective social media posts are those that:
ASK A QUESTION OR INVITE OPINIONS, FEEDBACK OR ADVICE – we all like being asked for our experiences, views or opinions, particularly if it’s really easy to respond, for example through a poll. This also helps with those algorithms.
HELP PEOPLE EXPRESS IDENTITY & BELONGING – eg by sharing information about a cause they believe in – perhaps showing they’ve done something good like donated or signed a petition; or as simple as an inspirational quote, a call to action, or anything that’s connected with their core values and beliefs.
SHARE USEFUL ADVICE/RESOURCES – to help people improve themselves, their lives, their work, and solve a problem they’re facing or address a need they have. This is called ‘content marketing’ which is ‘the art of communicating with your customer and prospects without selling’ according to the Content Marketing Institute.
ENABLE PEOPLE TO KEEP INFORMED – this can go beyond just broadcasting information about your organisation. For some people, it can respond to their sense of self, wanting to be seen as a person who is well informed about certain topics.
Of course, we sometimes just go onto social media because we want to be entertained, perhaps to hear personal STORIES, to feel happy, to laugh, to be curious (nosey!). Some of the ‘behind the scenes’ videos feed this curiosity, as well as helping people to be informed about your organisation.
And finally, one of the things that connects many of these is that we’re drawn to content that prompt our EMOTIONS – from happiness to anger, humour to belonging and empathy.
Many of the uses and gratifications overlap. And for those of you who know Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, you’ll recognise a lot of this as the ‘belonging’ and ‘love’ levels of need.
What do you want to talk to them about?
Of course, the sweet spot for communications is where the audiences’ needs and interests and the things they want to hear/do on social media, overlap with your own. What you want to talk about will probably include:
- This is what we do
- This is what we have to sell/offer/want you to get involved with
- This is the way we do it/our values/our approach
- This is who we are/our team
- This is who we benefit/our beneficiaries/customers
- This is our impact (stories, case studies, social proof ie testimonials)
It’s usually possible to share all the information that you need to within all those ‘uses and gratifications’ types of content. It may just take a little creative thinking. I sometimes use a grid to help me with that, the horizontal column headings list the ‘uses and gratifications’ and the vertical row headings list the things we want to talk about. You may be surprised what you can come up with when you look at it this way!
Once you/your team have an understanding of these foundations, you’re in a much stronger position to go on to develop social media goals and therefore campaigns. Social media tactics, to a certain extent, are easy – particularly if you try things, monitor how people respond, and adapt accordingly. It’s the overall thinking behind your use of social media that can make all the difference.
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First published: June 2021