Engagement, Not Distribution: Rethinking Social Media Strategies
For associations, social channels are no longer just a bullhorn.
This is the ninth in a series of Q&A's with speakers at the Folio: Association Media Summit on May 3rd in Washington, D.C.
Maturity comes with experience, and it often demands and leads to new ways of thinking.
That’s where social media practitioners find themselves today as the initial wave of youthful exuberance and experimentation gives way to more introspection and analysis about what works and what doesn’t.
Having eagerly embraced social media as a tool to reach members, many associations now find themselves at what might be called a “step-back-and-assess” stage. Armed with both knowledge gained from experience and more insight into what’s possible, they’re poised to take social media to the next level.
At the National Trust for Historic Preservation, social media has grown to become a core part of the communications strategy. But it’s far from being fully developed, according to Sarah Heffern, associate director, social media strategy. In that role since 2012, the 17-year association veteran manages a small social media team, digesting what’s been learned about social media and factoring that into where it needs to go.
Heffern, who will be a panelist on the “Developing a Customized Social Media Strategy” session at the Folio: Association Media Summit, says that as social media matures, it needs more watchful eyes. Here, enjoy a preview of some of the insights she'll bring to the panel.
Folio: Where does social media stand overall as a communications tool at your association?
Heffern: We still reach our membership via direct mail and email as well, but social media is a critically important part of our communications mix, as it allows us to reach beyond our traditional audience.
Folio: How has it developed over time?
Heffern: We’ve learned two things about social: that its strength was engagement, and that it needs to be strategic.
Our use of social media has changed as the social media landscape has changed. Initially, like a lot of brands and nonprofits, we used social media as a bullhorn, as just another place to get our message out. We were very distribution-focused; we’d share news and announcements, but not engage.
We were lucky in that our social media program grew organically out of our online content strategy. It was initially a sideline, little bits of time carved out of several people’s workdays. So another key evolution was in staffing. Committing first one—and now three—full-time employees to our social media outreach is an indicator that the National Trust values our work and, more importantly, the audiences we are reaching.
Folio: Have you learned anything that’s upended your initial thinking about social media strategy?
Heffern: It involves meetings and spreadsheets as much, and sometimes more, than it does being on the actual channels. I sit in on a lot of meetings that, on their face, seem really far removed from the social media world. I do it so I can hear what’s going on in the field and start thinking about how to share that work on social. My team and I also spend a lot of time talking with our editorial and design colleagues to make sure we’re all on the same page.
And then there’s the analytics. We look at our stats all the time, so that we can see what stories and conversations our fans and followers are most interested in. If I could go back in time I’d tell “Past Me,” who loved history and English and had no use for numbers, to pay more attention in math class.