Association Social Media Best Practices

social fish
social fish

Last month, I presented at an Association Trends event about association social media. It was fun to talk about my favorite subject and especially fun to be part of a panel facilitated by Maddie Grant with association social media directors Susannah Murley (SEIA), Chad Davis (NAHB) and Curtis Midkiff (SHRM).

Here are 10 association social media best practices I shared:

  1. Meet your members where they are. I admit one of my pet peeves is the practice of surveying members to ask about their social media use as a first step in developing a social media strategy. Often, these surveys are either fill-out-this-survey-on-paper-and-mail-it-back-to-us jobs sent to a percentage of the membership or phone surveys. What’s the chance that the same members who are actively using social media sites are also the types to fill out and mail back paper surveys or participate in phone surveys? Possible, of course, but I certainly wouldn’t look to such a survey to be representative of digital-savvy members. How about instead of spending time and money crafting and tallying a survey, investing in an audit of various social media channels to see who’s talking about and/or sharing content around issues your association represents? Or setting up some keyword searches and monitoring them yourself to get an idea of the activity around those keywords? Every time I meet an association exec who declares “our members aren’t using social media” I can’t help but roll my eyes–really? There are over 1.5 billion active Facebook users….so that’s everyone EXCEPT your members? Does that sound likely to you? Yeah, me neither.

  2. Yes, young people are using social media….but not just young people. According to Pew Research Center’s 2012 Demographics of Social Media Users survey, 67% of all internet users use social networking sites. 83% of users 18-29 years old use social networking sites….and so do 77% of users 30-49 and 52% of users 50-64. So the old “are members are older and don’t use social media” logic just doesn’t hold true anymore.

  3. If your members aren’t there yet, don’t give up–educate. So you launched those Twitter and Facebook accounts a few years ago, but you still only have a handful of followers and aren’t getting a lot of engagement? Don’t give up! Associations can and should play a role in educating members about social media use for personal learning, professional development, in the context of their professions, for networking, etc. Be their guide and help them understand that Twitter is about much more than what people are eating for lunch or how Facebook isn’t just a bunch of teens sharing drunken photos. Your members will be grateful for the education and it will help bolster engagement in the association’s social media efforts.

  4. Don’t be anti-social. Yes, social media is an effective part of the marketing mix…but that doesn’t meant that using social media as a channel to blast information about your association’s products, events and services. Social media is about engaging people around what’s interesting and relevant to them–not to you. Curate and share content from a variety of sources–not just your own–and limit marketing messages to a small percentage of your overall content mix.

  5. Be data driven. Social media is about more than popularity–so don’t just track how many people like your Facebook page or follow your Twitter account–link social media performance back to existing business goals. Which social media channels are driving traffic to your website? How many attendees decided to come to your org’s annual meeting this year because they followed the conference hashtag last year and decided it was a must-attend event next year? How many sales did that Facebook promoted post result in?

  6. Don’t silo social media. Is your association at the stage of social media strategy where the departments are fighting over who should “own” social media? Save yourself the trouble–and the fights–by remembering that no one department “owns” social media–social media touches every part of your association, from membership to events to marketing to communications to PR to education, and so on. Integrate social media into your overall communications strategy and be sure that all stakeholders have seat at the table. Remember that your members don’t care where social media “lives” internally–they care about the value and relevance of the content you share on those channels.

  7. Encourage sharing. While much of social media is about posting content to your various social channels, an equally important part is enabling people to do the sharing for you. After all, chances are your association creates some really great content–so please make it easy for people to share it by including sharing widgets on your website, online publications and email messages. And while it’s great you set up a hashtag for your event, make sure to include that hashtag on EVERY communication about the event–in emails, in the print program, on the slide templates.

  8. Don’t worry about being everywhere. Yes, social media is overwhelming–especially when you are running an association with limited resources and a limited number of staff. Don’t worry about having a presence on every social media platform–you’ll drive yourself crazy and dilute your effectiveness on the channels that work best for your members. Evaluate which channels make the most sense for your members–see where they’re already active, check out which channels are referring the most traffic to your website, listen to your members–and focus your energy and attention on those channels.

  9. Keep your eye on the ball. Social media evolves constantly. Platform terms of service and user interfaces change constantly. New platforms crop up weekly in the effort to be the “next Facebook.” This means that your strategy needs to evolve too. What worked last year–or last month–may not work anymore.

  10. Social media won’t do itself.  Just because social media is “free” doesn’t mean it’s actually free. Leveraging social media effectively takes time, people who not only understand how to “do” social media but how to use it effectively in the context of your association. Yes, it’s tempting to relegate social media to an intern or a volunteer–but keep in mind that even if one of those people is helping out, you need someone driving strategy, evaluating effectiveness and evolving tactics as time goes on and platforms change.

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