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Social media essentials: what works and why

Social media essentials: what works and why

How to avoid an “Annie get your gun” approach

Connected planet

Connected planet

In the free-wheeling world of social media, where people chat in nano-seconds, finding your authentic voice is a challenge. Learn how to engage with your chosen tribe.

This step-by-step guide is designed to help you leverage a bewildering array of social media. Find out how to avoid being a lone-ranger in a terrain buzzing with social butterflies.

Step 1: Stand out from the crowd

Going social has never been easier in a virtual or mobile world. Your smart phones and online channels help share information, ideas, pictures or videos, anywhere and anytime.

This reality is marked by billions of connections that criss-cross the planet in nano-seconds and emit signals into deep space. The challenge is using social media without being swamped by a communication overload.

Start by clarifying if a one-size-fits-all strategy works for you or your team. This domain is nascent, fast-paced and straddles our personal and professional space. The lines often blur between the two.

A clearly-defined plan leverages mobile or web-based technologies. The socially-savvy traveler connects communities of interest. Rather than jumping on every soapbox, go narrow and deep into the demographics you want to reach.

This road-map goes past the technology or social media tools. The goal is to galvanise communities that are co-creators of your content. These travelers need the ability to discuss, modify, or share user-generated content.

The social media terrain straddles a smorgasbord of channels. Among these, there are mobile feeds, internet forums, web logs, blogs, podcasts or online profiles.

In this space, a channel like Twitter goes “viral” more readily – offering you the “one-second” of fame. If you step outside the limelight, it helps to build long-term relationships.

You can track some insights around who's the most followed? Or if you're a twitaholic. Some local trends can be tracked at Twitterverse exposed.

Step 2: Find your tribe

Socially-savvy organisations caution against getting caught up in the “number” of followers or “likes” for your posts. It may boost the ego to capture a following on the scale of President Obama or Bill Gates.

But friends like these are often fickle, restless or chasing the next big thing. Inside this volatile and fast-changing terrain, loyalty to a brand, message or rhetoric can ebb and flow in unpredictable ways.

Firstly, ask yourself: what is your social media strategy? Does this extend your reach into a space that goes narrow and deep? Do you influence people or are you being led by them?

The danger lies in taking a scatter-gun approach. For example, Facebook is built around personal networks, semi-private conversations or discussions threads.

Twitter offers an open, flat network that is built around hashtag conversations or live feeds. Tweets are often critical during an emergency or crisis. This was demonstrated during the Queensland floods, fires in South Australia, or earthquakes in New Zealand.

During emergencies, people in affected areas relayed messages in real-time. This information enabled first responders or emergency teams to allocate services, as and where needed.

One Queensland flood recorded 15,000 tweets per hour around a flood hashtag. But once the danger subsided, there was a marked decline in the volume of tweets. The attention had moved elsewhere.

Step 3: Create an authentic voice

As with other communication, authenticity matters. It’s important to say it like it is, rather than use jargon or buzzwords. The conundrum for government, education or health is just how much to share using social media.

It helps to clarify uses around social media. This is built around improving the quality of service, building citizen engagement or crowdsourcing feedback around a policy.

Avoid being swamped by the slew of new social media tools. It’s prudent to hold back on spending money on resources just because “everyone else is doing it.”

Rather focus on your more immediate needs. For example, the building blocks may encompass staff access, managing accounts, the markers around acceptable use, conduct of staff and developing content. Security and legal considerations need closer scrutiny.

Step 4: Avoid sermons from the pulpit

Social media has its genesis in personal communication. The question is: how readily does this transition into a public sector or service delivery space?

As the lines blur between personal, work or professional use, you may nominate a spokesperson to manage your social media channels. This could be an executive or corporate affairs manager.

But it’s advisable to strike a balance between “corporate-speak” and your authentic voice. The psychology of communication differentiates between two-way conversation vs sermons from the pulpit.

Social media is open by its nature. Organisations still struggle with dilemmas around unrestricted or controlled access. Moreover, managing a social media account goes beyond parking a profile “out there.”

You need to take direct ownership of your accounts. This is about creating, managing, and routinely updating the messages. This extends past the dead sea scrolls into a living, breathing and often messy channel.

An integrated social media presence enables staff to access a full range of tools and capabilities. These include joining networks, posting information or building communities of interest.

It helps to clarify how many social media sites represent your organisation. Are these sites personal, professional or for organisational use? Or a mix and match? You can clarify who sets up an agency or professional social media account. And share clearly-defined steps to establish these accounts.

Step 5: Leverage the listening posts

There are information-brokers with finely-tuned antennas. Take a cue from them. Your social media plan cannot flourish in a vacuum. Use the right analytics and information mining tools to hoover the data. Track where your tribe hangs out. And also who is most important to you.

Track the most relevant communities and interest groups. Build a rapport. And more importantly, follow the threads of conversation. On the surface, this chatter seems inane or disconnected. Drilling into the detail offers nuggets to harvest or monitor trends.

Online listening posts offer insights into discussions, information-sharing or the collective tribal wisdom. You don’t need rocket science to feel the pulse. Moreover, build knowledge by creating by-invitation only communities. These are secure, targeted and offer the more candid feedback.

Secure log-ins enable community members to participate. This participation is useful for online discussions, polls, surveys or live and archived interactive activities. But in an environment awash with social groups, clarify the “value proposition” or what’s in it for members.

Governments successfully leverage these channels through “Have your say” or crowdsourcing programs. Where done right, this feedback is invaluable when refining a policy, tailoring a service or allocating sought-after funds.

Step 6: Be socially responsible

The figures grow each day: there’re nearly 200 million active users of Twitter. More than one billion users are intertwined with Facebook.

In this terrain, news travels faster than the speed of light. Innuendo, hearsay or rumour takes on a life of its own. Social responsibility incorporates filters around your social media plan. These filters go hand-in-hand with independent, citizen-generated content.

Learn how to adapt to the two-way social media channels, together with conventional platforms like television, radio or the web. For example, as a service delivery organisation, you can disseminate urgent emergency information in real time. Or crowdsource details from the grassroots.

This crowdsourcing was highlighted during the Queensland floods. Twitter became a key source of news for mainstream media and emergency services. Areas of need were tracked through photographs and videos, incorporated with tweets.

Then, social media was integral to crisis management. This was led by two-way communication. This crisis management leveraged the responsible sharing of information. Teams were split to keep an eye on different channels.

They examined trends and patterns of information. These offered much-needed insights for an emergency operations centre to respond to posts.

As social media goes main-stream, it’s advisable to invest quality time around protocols, policies or procedures, as shown by Queensland, for example, around emergency alerts or following elections in real-time.

This investment starts now. It’s not an after-thought post-crisis management. Don’t risk being unprepared – twiddling the dial – to separate rumour from fact or innuendo from the real thing.

Some useful sites in the virtual space include the US Library of Congress or building your government ranking. You can offer feedback around testing a beta site and share history @ the National Archives of Australia. Other places help you build connections @ the State Library of NSW. Another award-winning site is the State Library of Queensland.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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Tags emergency managementonline listeningprivacy controlssocial mediainternetmobile deviceshealth social mediacommunity engagementgovernment social mediaeducation social mediacrowdsourcingvirtualsecurity

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