A surprisingly large number of organizations are using a Facebook site, managed by a millenial generation junior staff person, as their organization’s approach to social media. Not that there is anything wrong with Facebook or with millenial’s or with junior staff people. It’s just that they are not a substitute for a business strategy on how to use social media for most professional or trade associations.
There is so much hype about how social media is changing society and in particular, about how associations are facing the most serious threat yet to the way they are doing business and even their very existence, that it is intimidating for many. Some of the hype is true – social media is changing how associations need to operate and in many cases the changes are life threatening for traditional associations. However, there is also a great deal of confusion because of the proliferation of new tools and the many very disparate ways they are being used to connect people. The tools are important but they can also be a distraction from creating the necessary strategy if you start with tools and features first.
What associations need to remember is that associations are all about creating community, something that is new to most of the new entrants in the social media space. What associations should also keep in mind is that social media is first and foremost an engagement strategy, something that associations also have as part of their DNA.
What is different and what many associations are going to struggle with however, is that social media tools require a new and evolving skill set to be leveraged effectively. For example, association staff are often expected to create and generate content for their association. In the new social media context, it is more about user generated content and enabling more autonomy in the community at large. Staff have then to learn more how to influence and manage thought leaders and experts who then create content and less on creating it themselves. This can be a significant and difficult change for many. They have to become true “community managers”, a position that will include subject matter understanding, political skills and excellent communication capabilities.
Social media applications and tools offer an exciting and new way to enable real engagement within communities of interest. But if you want to make intelligent choices about which tools are appropriate for which purposes, it helps first to know what you want to achieve through social media and how best to do it. That is what a social media strategy is all about and it is the starting point, before making technology decisions.