Where to Start

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If you're jumping into social media, start with a plan, rather than by creating lots of accounts. Without a plan, you won’t know what kind of results you should be getting, and you’ll be scrambling to keep up with your social media channels and getting very little in return.

Instead, follow the POST methodology from Groundswell, by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li: People, Objectives, Strategy, then Technology. Read the authors’ summary; it boils down to:

People: Who are you trying to reach? What social media tools do they use, and for what purposes? Where will they want to hear from you?

Objectives: One of listening, talking, energizing (connecting others), supporting (by providing tools), or embracing (collaborating). You’ll probably want to do several of these, but figure out which one is your primary activity.

Strategy: What will change How will you know it changed? How will you need to change in response?

Technology: What technologies are best suited to your goals?

Example 1: You’re trying to reach political reporters in your district’s largest cities, who watch Twitter for breaking news. You want to publish your own views to them. You will start being quoted more often in articles, and more people will read your press releases. You need to budget time for networking with reporters online as well as your usual phone pitches, and you need to budget more time than before for responding to calls from them. You decide to create an RSS feed for your press releases so reporters can easily subscribe to them, and to publish the feed using Twitter. You’ll also watch reporter and newspaper Twitter accounts for items about your district to retweet, building up relationships.

Example 2: You’re trying to reach college students in your district, who use Facebook to keep in touch with each other. You want to hear their concerns about higher education funding cuts. You will know which students and which locations are most upset by possible cuts, and you may need to change your positions on what cuts are needed. You decide to contact the administrators of Facebook Groups of students at particular colleges/universities, asking them to suggest their members join your Group about funding issues, where you regularly send out questions and watch the discussion.

You'll notice that many social media tools are free or very cheap, but that they take time to manage. Having a plan for what to use, how to use it, and what success looks like will let you focus your time on channels that are effective for you.

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