In my life as a consultant and my experience as a 40 something, I have experienced the inner conflict. On one hand, innovation tells me to explore and quickly adopt (or figure out how to adapt) new technologies like social media tools. On the other hand, especially when observing how some have misused social media, the temptation is to overlook it as a tool for professional activity. I decided to write this to help others who have the conflict I used to have.
For associations, educational institutions, and non-profits, realize that the decision to engage with social media and blogging is not about YOU as an individual. My simple question that solved the conflict for me: do you have something that the world needs to hear, experience, or explore? If the answer is yes, you NEED at least Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. You will also want to invest in a content management system (CMS) to consistently deliver messages to your audience. Your sense of the vision has to have at least three filters in the context of CMS: 1) Target Audience & Growth, 2) Current User Support, and 3) Front Office Presentation. Your final technology issue is 4) BackOffice Integration, which I believe will need to be customized for your needs. This would provide the most flexibility with how the information is stored and how you utilize the infrastructure to meet your reporting and forecasting needs.
I am in favor of WordPress for CMS because of my bias that a relevant organization must: a) produce content, b) engage an audience with that content through comment system, c) solicit content from members, d) archive content in visually simple ways accessible to search engines, e) invite potential members to trade email address/contact info for access to information, and f) provide “up-sell” opportunity through both membership, user education, and merchandise sales. The challenge remains to secure the tools that achieve these goals most elegantly and efficiently. Just one example: Without an elegant CMS, items posted currently on your site have no individualized method of promotion to social media. This sort of individualized promotion is a staple of a CMS like WordPress.
1) TARGET AUDIENCE/MEMBERSHIP GROWTH
My point: Use Tools to Get them to the Site. Use Tools to Engage them while on the Site.
Produce 2 or 3 goals for the development of the organization. These can be the same 3 goals expressed in your mission and values statement or your strategic plan. For an association, membership and social action are typical starts. For educational institutions, education and community service are typical. For non-profits, service to clients and sustainability should begin these conversations.
Consider how your target audience will find the site. If searches from Google are important, daily content or at least consistent periodic content is critical. If word of mouth or event-based contact is your primary method, your site must create a reminiscing effect allowing the user to relive elements of the experience. Either way, the site must a) capture the users contact info, b) promote an ongoing conversation, and c) introduce other areas of interest while the user is present on the site.
2) CURRENT USER SUPPORT
My bias: Content Drives Interest to the Site. Networking is the Value-Add.
News/Press Releases, Research, and Promotions
My expertise with institutional consulting is to help organizations see their most abundant resource, DATA, and convert it into capital. News, Press Releases, Research, Promotions, and Service Activities are content sources. Organizations produce this resource simply by virtue of having the business. The sad reality is that many organizations waste this resource to a large extent.
I suggest approaching these content sources as a blog-posted, single article, at least twice weekly distribution cycle. The result is that you will have “fresh” content to circulate the web at least twice per week. Your web rankings will increase, potentially resulting in more eyeballs viewing the site. Post an aggregated newsletter-style review as a monthly post to your site. It will be searchable, media rich, and, most importantly, consistent.
I suggest blog-based because of the format’s integration with social media. Organizational web sites must provide value-added products, but another important function (enhanced by tech) is creating a space for conversation, facilitating collaboration, and sharing tools for production. Realize that social media is less about promotion and more about creating community. Fame beyond a specified group is a rare by-product, but sustained discussion within a specific group is what led to the rise of the Internet itself.
For example, many associations are familiar with a chapter-based model of diffusion. Blog-based information dissemination can support an “interest group” model. The International Sociology Association does this well (research committee 51 is my favorite). Once established in the web space, interest groups can be solicited to produce a monthly post regarding their progress, research questions, upcoming articles, and more. They can be another engine of content production. If you are paying attention, that means that they are also engines of capital production.
3) FRONT OFFICE PRESENTATION
My value-added: Use online to Extend and Promote the Face-to-Face. Use tech to Manage the Face-to-Face.
Speaking of association chapters, any organization that employs diffusion across multiple locales will benefit from a centralized system of information dissemination and feedback. A well-formed web platform can accomplish the herculean feat of promotion, registration, facilitation, and evaluation. Data from this centralized tool can be used by interest group leaders to connect with user by their zip code. Personalized connections can be made that are enhanced by the collective message appearing on social media.
This could support efforts for regional training, advocacy action, and more. An integrated system of member management and instantaneous update of information would support engagement and information renewal of those users who have relocated address or those who engage with the organization from multiple locations. Online registration allows for simple registrant management, customer relationship management tied to a user profile, custom engagement at the actual function, and contact to provide evaluation surveys at the conclusion of the event.
4) BACKOFFICE INTEGRATION
My Conclusion: The Translation of Content into Capital is most efficient when based on a Media and Data Use Plan
The best part is that the RE- in REsource is realized because the system supports export to other data manipulation software tools. An organized social media-integrated system can produce a downloadable file that integrates with your current accounting system, member management, contact mailing list, or other systems to update based on information users enter through their online membership profile. You gain the ability to use and reuse data to support the goals of your organization. Your users gain the network they hoped your organization would provide.