7 Steps to Engaging in Social Media

Last time we talked about developing social media policy to protect your agency and employees when trying to engage in the process.  Today, I bring you seven steps to engage in social media.  You’ve developed a coherent policy around access, use, content and security.  It’s time to develop a strategy to engage.  You bought the plane and cleared the runway—let’s fly!

1.  Strategize

What do you want to talk about?  Maybe you’re a state natural resources agency and you want to drive tourism to state parks and historic sites, promote state farmers markets and get feedback on how to improve your processes like hunting and fishing license procedures.  Maybe you want to garner attention for a native endangered species or even reduce enforcement violations like poaching or littering.  Social media is a great avenue to get the message out.

2. Join

It sounds simple, I know, but you have to join some of your preferred social networks to understand what they’re all about.  Whether it’s GovLoop, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Path or even Google+, each network has its own etiquette and mannerisms.  Learning starts at the beginning so pick one.  Twitter is for short bursts, Facebook allows for videos, pictures and long messages.  Pinterest is for pictures.  LinkedIn hosts great forums and is full of professionals looking to network.  Google+ well…bless their heart, they try.

3. Listen before you Speak

Listening is just as important as broadcasting.  Understanding what people are saying about you today is going to allow you to better know your audience, what they want and how they perceive you.

4. Speak, Carefully

In part 1, we discussed the challenge of distinguishing between personal, professional and official use of social media.  In any case, you want to be factual, honest and transparent.  Citizens expect the best from their governments, even if they anticipate the worst at times.  On the other hand, it’s important to be timely, relevant and frequent.

5. Connect with the Audience

In The Tao of Twitter, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) offers advice for businesses engaging on Twitter but it applies to the public sector and other networks just as well. Make targeted connections; post meaningful content; provide authentic helpfulness.  What does that mean for government exactly?

Target the audience for your services.  If you’re the DNR I mentioned before, look for folks talking about you or hunting and fishing or outdoor groups and follow them, friend them or join their discussion groups.

Meaningful content means that while I may care about updates to the hunting and fishing regulations (and I do!), I probably don’t care that you installed new carpet in the southeast regional office.

Authentic helpfulness in government is self-explanatory.  Everything you do is to serve the greater good; social media is another outlet to do that.  It is important to understand that as much as you broadcast what’s important to you, people will reach out with what’s important to them.  Your social media presence is another avenue for citizens to reach government for a solution.

6. Use the Tools at your Disposal

As your presence grows, these tools will help you make the most of your time.

Services like bit.ly will shorten your links which is great for keeping it short and sweet on sites like Twitter.

Hootsuite and Tweetdeck aggregate your social media presence into one dashboard, allowing you push out your info quickly and get a holistic view of your presence.  Even Microsoft Outlook allows you integrate your networks.

One of the newer tools, Klout, measures your social media influence across your networks allowing you to see your reach and measure your influence on key topics.

7. Measuring Success

Despite the assertion that it is difficult to measure social media influence, there are still plenty of ways to determine if you’re being effective.  Key metrics like connections, followers or friends (depending on your network of choice) will determine your direct reach.  Is it growing or shrinking?

Page views, likes, retweets or pins all help extend your network beyond your direct sphere.  Comments—those are the big ones.  As we discussed in Part 1, feedback is important but bracing for criticism and negativity is necessary.  Social media isn’t social unless it’s a two way conversation, even an unpleasant one.  Take the criticism in stride but have a policy for dealing with, addressing and correcting any problems.

Oscar Wilde said, “there is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  Now is the time join the conversation and shape the debate.  It wasn’t long ago that the Internet itself demanded a presence from the public sector.  Social media now demands that presence be more human.

According to Pew, 2/3 of online adults use social media and according to ComScore more than half of social media users access their network on a daily basis.  What’s even more intriguing is that the number accessing social media from a mobile device grew by 37% to over 72 million and 70% of that population posted to their network from their mobile device.

What does all that mean?  For the public sector, ever striving to provide better access to citizen services and wisely invest taxpayer dollars, social media and mobility is where the people live.  Social media is where the next DMV field office or park ranger station needs to go and there is no overhead required.

Tell me what you think.  Where are you in your social media strategy? Do you have best practices to share with fellow public officials?  How is social media being perceived in your agency?
Josh Heard Marketing Manager AT&T About Josh