What is social media? Am I ready to use it?

Simply put, social media is an umbrella term used to describe the myriad of web-based and mobile technologies that facilitate social interaction and the sharing of words, photos and video. Blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are popular social media tools.

As opposed to broadcast media (TV, newspapers, print and the like) which pushes information out to an audience, social media relies on audience participation as a driver, allowing individuals with common interests to quickly and easily use technology to interact and exchange information in the electronic world.

Social media should be part of your strategic communications plan, simply because it’s a fast, cost-effective way to monitor and build your brand and grow relationships with your audience. The key is being ready to use it. It’s possible to do more harm than good to your brand and communications objectives if you leap into conversations too soon.

Here’s how you can get ready to join in:

Know who you are and how you want to position yourself online. A strong organizational identity will help you do this. Appoint one or two social media ambassadors to keep communications consistent. Be sure they understand the approach you’re aiming for and what’s off-limits for online discussion.

Be realistic about your ability to manage your social media strategies. Start slow. Small steps will help you assess the time and resources you’ll need to dedicate to social media to benefit from it.

Before you start talking online, listen carefully. Get a sense of who your audience is and what they’re talking about before you chime in. This will ensure you offer relevant information that positions you as an expert.

Engage people in meaningful interactions. It’s easy to simply talk at people, but effective social media strategies are about building relationships with your target audience.

Consider posting questions that invite feedback and opinions about issues that matter to your organization. When users post comments that are relevant to your organization, acknowledge them. Use social media as one of the ways you thank individual donors. Most of all, be creative. There are many ways you can build affinity with your audience. Embrace them.

Once you join the conversation, protect your brand. Be proactive rather than reactive. Follow conversations about your organization, programs and services. Don’t wait to respond if discussion turns negative. The intimate nature of social media encourages open dialogue, and sincere exchange is welcomed.

To learn more about social media, read Technology & Facilities.

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