Taking Social Media to the Next Level of Engagement

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, are now recognized as important tools in every communications strategy.  But these seem to only add to our workload, not reduce it, because there still is a need to maintain websites and mail newsletters to reach our traditional audiences and supporters.  And if you’re working with social media, how do you know it’s making a difference and really engaging your audience?  Who wants to go to the trouble of tweeting and posting if no one is listening? It’s going to take a bit more work to get to the next level, but it may be worth it.  Some of it is easy to adopt and just a matter of practice, others require learning a little technical jargon.  Here are a couple approaches:

1.  Use social media to show you are listening.  Remember, social media is supposed to be a two-way dialogue (that’s the “social” part), so respond to comments (even if it’s just a, “Thanks for your comment.  We’re glad you had a great time at the event.”).    On Facebook and blogs, that’s very easy (most have a “reply” feature for comments) but on Twitter you’ll need to know some jargon: Retweet (RT), @Reply, and @Mention (click on the links for more details).  Jesse Stanchak on SmartBlog takes it step further: “Instead of just thanking someone when they say something nice about you, try retweeting the complement. When you respond to someone, put a period in front of the @ symbol in the handle, so that others can see you engage with them.”  I haven’t tried the “.@” technique (and can’t even find it in the Twitter Help Center) so if someone is using it successfully, let us know in the comments.

2.  Provide good content, not just fluff or “landfill marketing“.  That’s hard work because it requires thinking about your site, collections, programs, and activities in a new way so that it connects with the audiences using social media, and then condensing down to 140 characters for a Tweet.  Sometimes out of desperation to get something up everyday to “feed the beast”, a site will just post whatever comes to mind:  “How was your weekend?” or “Our restaurant is open until 3 pm today”.  You can do this once, but do it more frequently and readers will begin to ignore your “news”.  Often organizations don’t have time to develop good content for social media, so I suggest they start by taking their existing printed newsletter and making each story (e.g., event announcement, volunteer profile, staff news) a separate weekly post on a blog.  Most blogs allow you to schedule your posts in advance, so you can spend a morning doing cut-and-paste from your newsletter to your blog and then see them go up automatically every Monday (or whichever day you choose) over the following weeks.  If you’re stuck for ideas, try a regular monthly profile on a volunteer, member, donor, or staffmember; a picture and description of a collections object, document, or historic photograph; a behind-the-scenes look at a current preservation challenge or success; or a list of events coming up in the next three months.  If you adopt only a couple of these ideas, you’ll fill up with weekly posts quickly.  Blogging programs like WordPress can automatically post it to Facebook and Twitter, saving you time. Again, don’t feel you need to post everyday; monthly is acceptable (although weekly is recommended).  Quality and regularity are more important.