August 20, 2009

5 steps to a successful social media strategy

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Amy Sample WardSocial media, as many have said time and again, is only part of your campaigning, part of your fundraising, and part of your communications. It isn’t something that lives in its own department, nor does it have staff that are separate from the rest of the organization. Just as the content distributed and conversations participated in are integrated into many different aspects of your organization’s work, so should the knowledge, access and responsibility to participate be integrated across your staff.

These 5 steps are intended to help you create a successful social media strategy, but as you will see, they focus on your organization’s overall strategy!

1. Goals & objectives

Evaluate your goals and objectives, as an organization. You will not be able to identify tools and engagement methods for your organization online without knowing the bigger picture and without knowing it in concrete goals that will let you build and work towards them. Hildy Gottlieb’s Pollyanna Principles are a great place to start if you want to learn more about how you can evaluate and identify your organizational goals (and larger view) in a way to successfully design projects, programs and even partnerships for real impact.

For more resources on goals & objectives:

2. Capacity

Before sitting down to work on your social media strategy, evaluate what kind of capacity you already have in your network. Things to consider include: staff knowledge and experience with different tools as well as other internal knowledge or previous work experience. It’s also a good idea to evaluate the capacity (especially if you think collaboration or partnership is an opportunity) of related organizations. Lastly, consider what other organizations, companies or campaigns in your sector have already done!

For more resources on capacity evaluation:

3. Strategy

Now it’s time to focus in on the meat of this post, the actual “social media strategy” part. But, there’s a catch: it’s another 5 steps!

  • Identify the audience or community you want to engage.
    This includes thinking about who you are already communicating with and how, as well as what groups you want to start communicating with who you currently aren’t including. Who you want to talk to, listen to, and create a community with is the foundation for everything else you do with social media tools because it is what ultimately decides the success or failure of your other decisions—if you base your timing, tools, and process around those you want to be a part of your work, then you’ll be a lot more successful than if you pick tools you like when it’s convenient for you without considering the community you want to use them.
  • Identify the resources currently available within your organization. Resources include staff knowledge and comfort with different tools, experience levels of staff working with supports, volunteers, and the public, staff with time available, staff with appropriate job duties to include social media, available budget for training or workshops, etc. Often, we forget that because the actual application/software/tool may be free, really using it is not. What we put into our social media engagement is what we get out of it, like everything else in life. If you only have an hour a week to post to a blog, then it is unreasonable to expect a lively conversation and community emerging from it, at least not very quickly. By evaluating what resources you already have on hand in the organization, you are much more prepared to fully examine your options. And remember, sometimes you assumptions about social media use and your staff can be way off! There is something out there for all of us, and more and more people around the world are engaging online, so don’t assume that it’s only your college intern who knows how to use these tools!
  • Identify what success will look like. This is really helpful in order to evaluate the appropriate tools for your work. If you want to create a space for volunteers and potential volunteers to share their knowledge and experiences with each other you are going to need very different tools than if you want to create a space for volunteers and potential volunteers to share that information with you. It’s also important to remember that social media is a changing space, with tools and applications, even functionality, evolving every day. So, your definition of success has to be flexible to the changing times and the changing needs of your audience.
  • Identify what technologies are most appropriate. Now that you know who you want to communicate with, who and what you have to work with in your organization, and where you want to go with the relationships, you can identify some tools to start exploring. There are lots of blogs, directories, and lists available online to help you get started picking tools that match your goals. One great way to help guide you in the process of identifying and selecting the most appropriate technologies is to ask your community! What are they using now? How would they like to engage with your organization? Explain what success looks like to you and ask how they would go about getting there!
  • Identify what measures of success can be used. You know who and what, and you identified where you want to go, but before you dive in you also need to establish how you can measure and monitor activity from day 1 onward. This includes things you are probably looking at already like the number of visitors to your website and subscribers of your emails; but, it also includes metrics based on the funcationality of the tools you choose and how you identified success. If you are using a forum, then measuring the number of replies to post (or, if your forum allows voting, then the positive feedback on posts) could be appropriate, as well as the ratio of people signed up vs posting vs replying, etc. It’s incredibly important for the success of your work to evaluate how things are going throughout. If something isn’t working to the degree you had hoped, it’s okay! Identify that issue, and correct it with either an alteration to the current tool or set up, or by shifting the group to a different, more appropriate tool. Just be sure to openly communicate your evaluations, ask for feedback (”Do you see what we see?”), and explain any changes well ahead of time.

For more on building your social media strategy:

4. Feedback

Be sure that you create mechanisms for feedback and input throughout your process and throughout whatever you “build” or use (whether it’s a social networking space, a website, a blog or anything else). You need to provide opportunities for your community, as well as your staff and any others participating on the “administrative” end of the operations to share ideas. The best way to approach this is to create feedback opportunities that are “evergreen” or always available, like a contact form or address, a public forum, or commenting; and opportunities that are “seasonal” or based specifically on an event, idea, opportunity, etc. (like a blog post about possible functionality that could be added to the site, asking for feedback and ideas or even voting on the options). Remember, though, that there is no point to asking for feedback and letting your community suggest their ideas if you aren’t going to listen. More often than not, the community knows what it wants much more than you do, so listening is key!

For more on feedback and listening:

5. Evaluate

Just as part of the social media strategy process in step 3 above calls for evaluation, so does the overall process. Evaluation in this step is focused on the higher level: how have your networks grown or changed? are there new opportunities for partnerships or collaborations? are there new opportunities for empowering your community either in different roles within the social media/online space or in other areas of your organization? do you have stories of volunteers, staff, community members, or those you serve that could be sharing their stories in new or different ways to highlight your impact? And more!

For more on evaluation:


As with most everything else, it’s all a cycle. You will always be revisiting your goals, your community needs, the options for tools and how to evaluate your work. Continuing to keep the cyclical process moving, though, means that you will ensure that you give your organization all the opportunities to possible to improve it’s work and further it’s impact. This is one self-perpetuating cycle that’s good for you!

What do you think? What lessons have you learned from designing social media strategies in your organization? What did I miss? Looking forward to your conversation!

This post originally appeared on Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NP Tech.Amy Sample Ward connects nonprofits with new media technologies. See her business profile, contact Amy or leave a comment.

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2 thoughts on “5 steps to a successful social media strategy

  1. Nice and simple. If you look at these steps it would seem that they are fundamentally the same as would be done for any good marketing/PR strategy. Some of the specifics may change due to the nature of social media but the process is otherwise just smart business strategy. The biggest hurdle is often getting people in the organization to understand how the different kinds of social networks operate — they are not one size fits all — and for some holdouts, it's convincing them that these networks matter in the first place.

  2. Good post; too often people do not take the time to think about their objectives and formulate a strategy. There is a bit of a "gold rush" going on right now with people desperately rushing to set up Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels without any real idea as to why they are doing it.