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Posted by: Jane

Last week, I read a posted by Barry Feldman on Social Media Today, and #8 caught my eye:

Fire. Ready. Aim.
Enormous problem: marketers think channel before strategy. Joe says "Stop thinking Facebook. Think about the problem you are solving for your customer." Establish where your customer is, what they're doing there and create your content accordingly.

This evokes a conversation I recently had with the head of a successful nonprofit. It went something like this:

Executive Director: Do you 'do' social media?

Me: Can you be more specific?

Executive Director: I mean, do you know how to Facebook? Can you help us establish a social media presence? I'm not on Facebook myself, but I know it's important.

Me: I can absolutely do those things. But the bigger questions are, 'What are your goals for social media?' and 'How will social media integrate with, and complement, your overall communications plan?'

Executive Director: Yes, I know that's ideal but we really just need more people to Like us.

It was clear he's anxious about being left behind; that if his organization isn't getting enough Facebook fans, if his marketing department isn't Tweeting, then this is somehow a reflection of the organization's effectiveness. Never mind that by all reasonable standards, he's leading a highly performing business with demonstrated annual growth; they've been getting along fine without Facebook and Twitter thus far. Perhaps this is because the majority of his clients are unlikely to be using social media themselves.

Simply, he hasn't thought about his customer(s) and what they need to learn. I also suspect — based on some references to the cost of advertising — that he's lured by the idea of "free" marketing.

The lessons of this exchange are several:

  • If you don't have a clearly articulated reason for being on social media, then it's worth taking a deep breath, sitting back, and evaluating your goals. Increasing your number of followers is a perfectly acceptable goal if you have a plan to engage those followers. For some fun inspiration in this regard, see HubSpot's 5 Awesome Examples of Engaging Social Media Campaigns.
  • Know your audience. This particular nonprofit's client base comprises many individuals with limited English-language skills. Is mono-lingual social media the best way to reach them? On the other hand, social media could be a boon for engaging volunteers and donors (presuming they speak English). It all goes back to a well defined plan—and knowing which channels are most appropriate for each audience. (Did you know that teens are defecting from Facebook? Or that urban, African American women are the most likely to use Twitter?).
  • Related: You don't need to be on every single social media platform. Tumblr, for example, commands only 6% of all internet users, most of them in the 18-29 age range (see the Pew study). If you're just starting out with social media, start small—and confine your efforts to the platforms that will most likely appeal to your customers and prospects.

What are your most pressing social media questions? What lessons would you like to share? Sound off in the comments.

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