Thinking strategically: Five things to do before you start using social media

The third in our series of guest post comes from Liz McCarthy, who runs 23 Things for Research and is the Communications and Social Media Officer for the Bodleian Libraries.

A little strategy goes a long way

A little strategy goes a long way

When you’re just tweeting for yourself or using Facebook to post photos of friends and family, you don’t generally think about your goals or impact. But when you start to use social media and other digital tools professionally – particularly if you are using them on behalf of a project, a department or a university – a strategy becomes more and more important. Like marketing plans or business documents, social media strategies aren’t something we usually learn how to do in higher education. But they don’t have to be difficult; you just need to be able to sit down and think about your goals and how you will measure the impact of what you’re doing online.

So. A social media strategy in five  easy steps?

  1. Do your research. A bit of situational analysis can go a long way. Who is your audience? Students? Other researchers? The public? Media? What tools do they use? You’re probably trying to reach more than one type of group, but it helps to think about who you’re speaking to where and what kind of messages you want them to hear.
  2. Think about your objectives. Are you trying to get the word out about your research or a project? Get people to read a paper? Connect with your students or peers? Objectives need to be specific.
  3. Determine criteria for success. How will you know if you’re doing well? Can you measure how many people go to your article via social media? Maybe you can monitor how many times your students engage with blog posts? Is it important to reach as many people as possible, or to have them interact with you? Success means very different things to different people and different projects, and it’s not always about numbers.
  4. Choose your tools. Which tools and services can you use to accomplish your goals? We’re all busy, and it doesn’t make sense to use every social media tool on offer. Think about your situational analysis. Where are your audiences? If you’re trying to reach students, does it make sense to Tweet, or is a blog the best route? If you’re trying to generate article downloads, what works best? Ask around, do some reading, and experiment.
  5. Write it down. I’m pretty sure that many good social media users out there have thought about some of this already, even if they haven’t set it out on paper. That’s great. Now write it down, whether that means scrawling it on a piece of notepaper and taping it to your monitor or preparing a formal document. At the very least, a written plan will remind you of your goals and success measurement. Beyond that, however, it may be that you can use your strategy when talking to funders or thinking about REF.

These steps and your final strategy should be empowering, not restrictive. Producing a strategy can mean producing something as specific as the BBC’s excellent strategy document (which combines what some see as an ‘appropriate use policy’ with a wider strategy), or something that simply outlines an audience and a mission in a few bullet points. There are lots of examples online, from the simple to the exhaustive, and lots of tools to help you measure how your objectives are doing (Culture 24’s excellent Let’s Get Real action research is a good place to start, and you can take a look at the Evaluating Social Media Impact presentation I gave earlier this year). The key is that you’re thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re adapting and changing as your needs develop.

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