Effectively engaging people on social (in a way that builds reputation and increases attendance) requires a strong understanding of its messages and priorities.
It’s a smart move for an organization to have a social media strategy. But in many an organization’s rush to develop one, some may be setting themselves up for long-term social media failure. This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video is about what divides the successful strategies from the unsuccessful ones.
I get a good amount of requests to create social media strategies for organizations thanks to Know Your Own Bone and my work with IMPACTS. And I’m glad that I do! Having a social media strategy is important! It is critical to be able to effectively carry out the tactics that strengthen your brand strategy online and demonstrate through real-time posts how your organization “walks its talk” in terms of its mission, values, and priorities. Often, however, conversations with interested leaders uncover that organizations may be rushing to develop social media strategies so quickly that they miss the entire point of having a social media strategy.
It seems that many organizations would rather “check off the box” and have any social media strategy than take the time to develop a strategy that actually works. What makes me say that? The fact that some organizations with which I’ve spoken are rushing to create social media strategies, but they are not investing in or even thinking about the one thing that your organization needs in order to create any kind of engagement strategy at all:
Understanding who you are and what you are trying to accomplish needs to come first.
Before an organization can even think about a social media strategy, it must first know what it stands for, why it exists, and who is most essential to its long-term success. It is often beneficial to carry out a branding study to make sure that everyone is on the same page before carrying out any kind of engagement initiative. It is the foundation upon which your organization creates connections with visitors, members, donors, supporters, volunteers, and evangelists.
Data suggest that social media really is critical for success and driving visitation. The truth is that while digital engagement is extremely important, it is simply not possible to carry out effectively if your organization doesn’t have a grasp on who it is – inside and out.
“Yeah, yeah,” you might be thinking. “We know all this branding stuff for our organization!” But have you actually seen those brand strategy documents? Has the board vetted them recently? Would all of the chiefs in your institution agree on your brand values and reputational equities – and do all of your leaders even know what those things are? If I were to call up five random members of your Board of Directors and ask them to name three brand values attendant to your organization on the spot, would they overlap?
For most organizations, they probably wouldn’t. That’s a problem – especially because the person running social media, when asked that question, may list entirely different brand values and reputational equities than those board members…
Social media plays a big role in driving your organization’s reputation and how potential members, visitors, and donors perceive it. A branding study makes sure that everyone in the organization is on the same page about its values, its competitive positioning, its promise to those it engages, and the tone and content of its messaging. Without this information, the tail wags the dog – and down the road, your organization may have perceived values, priorities, and a personality that was never intended by leadership. And it is difficult to change public perception once it is formed.
What is a branding study?
A branding study contemplates many critical items relating to your organization, what it stands for, and how it is perceived in the market. These include its brand values, reputational equities, and goals, for instance.
Brand values are those attributes its stakeholders are dedicated to every day – how they “live” the organization’s mission. Reputational equities are the strengths your organization is known for and want to protect as they ultimately determine how the brand is perceived in the world. Goals, of course, are the primary objectives your organization is trying to achieve, both operationally and strategically. A social media strategy born from the organization’s brand platform should be aligned with these goals. (Because having X number of followers is a meaningless goal no matter how you cut it.)
There are many important reasons why your organization should fuss about having a branding study (or at the very least, leadership agreement on the organization’s tone and priorities) more than it fusses about checking off the box of having a social media strategy. Simply put, a social media strategy is baseless if it is not built upon a leadership-determined, shared understanding of an organization’s identity and purpose. Any type of engagement strategy that does not start with a brand understanding has no foundation, no determined personality (aside from that of the current social media manager), and it risks setting visitors, members, and donors up for a show of brand schizophrenia. At best, this can be embarrassing. At worst, it can alienate an organization’s most closely held constituents.
I could talk a lot more about why a branding study is a good idea. But here are three reasons why branding studies are absolutely prerequisite to an effective social media strategy:
1) Social media is about people and not about technology.
I’ve noticed that some of the organizations seem to think that social media is about creating something like “rules to manage technology.” This isn’t the whole story. Social media helps create connections between the people (or, critically, between people and your institution). Digital engagement is engagement. There’s a person on the other side of that computer – just as I am on the other side of this one. (Hi, reader!) Deciding how many times a day to post on Facebook is important – but knowing what to post so that it underscores your organization’s identity and creates meaningful connections is harder to know and can be much more important.
2) Social media is an extension of what you do offline.
A branding study – or formalized brand understanding – keeps your organization true to itself. We think long and hard about the messages and engagement priorities around programs, exhibits, and performances. When organizations remember that social media and digital engagement are extensions of what happens on-site, it further underscores how a branding study will help to align the brand touchpoints with all the constituencies it engages (guests, members, donors, etc.).
3) Social media changes. Your brand and mission do not (as often).
Social media platforms will change. How we engage constituents on current platforms will change. Change in the digital space is inevitable. Your brand, on the other hand, should not change with fads or evolutions in platforms. A consistent brand platform provides a solid foundation that will accommodate changes in the market. This also allows for the smooth changing of social media community managers. It helps organizations avoid brand confusion as new platforms rise in popularity and old platforms fall. Certainly, the tone and tactics used on different channels may change, but your organization’s brand will remain consistent. This understanding helps remove panic and sets your organization up to be more agile when it comes to embracing new ways of reaching audiences. It’s not about doing what is cool or hot right now. It’s about doing things and sharing messages that are true to your organization. Sometimes those messages can be said in a way that is cool, and that’s excellent – but knowing what you will and won’t say (outside of some fuzzy guideline or sense of “on brand” or “off brand” inside of a social media community manager’s head) is critical.
Let’s keep going crazy and sharing urgency about the need to create social media strategies! We need those! But we need branding studies first – and the creation of this asset needs to happen with input from board members and executive leadership. It’s a big process but it is an extremely important one. An organization needs to know itself in order to be true to itself on social media.