Lots of demands and little time? Social media tips that work

by JD Bruewer

Social media is important to your organization's PR and marketing efforts, but it's just one of many areas competing for attention. In 2012, I was tasked with creating a social media presence for a large medical center in Northwest Ohio. It was roughly one-fourth of my job. I had to find shortcuts to build a presence from scratch.

The process at its simplest was to Plan, Execute and Refine.

Any communication campaign needs to answer three basic questions. What is your goal? Who is your target audience and what is your message?

Your goal depends on your business. But in social media, it can usually be boiled down to one of four categories: fame, brand, allure or service. In this context, fame is being known as a thought leader in your industry. Brand is establishing or supporting your product or organization's image. Allure is attracting prospective customers, and service is fulfilling a need. 

Your target audience may be defined by demographics or shared interest. If you have done market research, you'll have this down. If you're too small to have formal market research, you are hopefully small enough to know your customers.

Your message will be shaped by your goals, but it also needs to have a tone. I'm a big fan of the Minimum Viable Personality, championed by Twitter star @FakeGrimlock. Loosely translated, it comes down to answering these three questions and keeping them in mind as you craft your posts.

  1. How do you improve your customer's life?
  2. What do you stand for?
  3. Who or what do you hate?

In my organization, the answers were:

  1. We make our customers healthier
  2. We stand for simpler ways to get care
  3. We hate fear-mongering and negative attitudes

The answers are intentionally simple so you can easily keep them in mind.

The next part of the plan is choosing the social media platforms you will use. You can't be everything to everyone, so don't try. Pick two or three, preferably ones you can manage with one scheduling tool. Keep it simple.

For starters, I would focus on Facebook and Twitter; they remain the two largest platforms. If you are a B2B organization, LinkedIn might make sense. If you are trying to drive people to a physical location, FourSquare and Swarm might be useful. Pinterest hits a particular, mostly female, demographic. Other platforms like Instagram, SnapChat or Google+ may make sense for some, but don't bite off more than you can chew.

If want to use video, consider a YouTube channel, but remember that video takes an investment in time to produce and a commitment of time to be viewed. If you have limited resources, think carefully before diving in.

Once you've have a plan, open accounts or pages on the platforms you've chosen, if you haven't already.

Next you'll need to start scheduling posts. With a bit of organization, you can do this in a couple hours a week. How often you post depends on your audience. Experiment a bit and see what works. The patterns change but a good start currently is two posts a day for Facebook, a little more for Twitter and other similar platforms.

You can organize your posts using a list or calendar, and/or you can use a scheduling tool like Hootsuite, Buffer or Sprout.

I used Hootsuite. You can manage up to three social media platforms for free. For $9.99 a month you can increase the number of platforms. The Publisher page lets you see what you have scheduled and what you have already published. You can use the publisher page as your posting calendar and keep all the information in one place.

In an ideal world, you could create original content for every day of the week that eloquently informs your audience while promoting your marketing goals. In the real world, most of us are lucky to create one such post a month.

If you can't create, curate. Find web articles and videos that speak to your audience, and share them. Use a Twitter account to follow organizations that provide that type of information. If you link that Twitter account to Hootsuite, you can schedule tweets to repost to your other social media accounts at the same time.

In the early days of my medical center efforts, I followed and regularly reposted items from CNN Health, Centers for Disease Control, local departments of health and more. I shared information from my organization as it was available until I was able to build up some internal content channels.

Remember this is "social" media -- carry a conversation, contribute, don't be needy. Yes, you want to promote your organization and call people to buy your products, attend your events or donate to your cause. But if that's all you do, you won't attract many followers. 

Think about what it's like when you are walking up to a Reds or Bengals game. There are signs asking for help, there are ticket scalpers and there are people having fun outside the bars.

Most will avoid those asking for help, not because they don't want to help, but because it's not what they are there for. They want to have fun and avoid the negative side of life for a bit. Some will engage with the ticket scalpers and street vendors, if they have a need for what is being sold. But almost everyone looks on with interest at those celebrating outside the bars. They are having fun and fun is attractive. Now, if one of those people suddenly asked you for help, you would at least listen, because your guard is down and you are open to them.

It's best to follow the 80/20 rule. No more than 20 percent, or one out of five posts, should be asking for something. The rest should be offering useful information about your organization or topics of interest to your audience. Helpful tips, or messages about free services you provide are often the best received.

Following these guidelines, you can manage social media efforts in an hour or so each week. You will need to regularly monitor for feedback and engagement. At a minimum, check at the start and end of each workday. If possible check once each evening and on weekends and holidays.

This information is general and based on current trends. Your best practices will vary and will change over time. The final step is to evaluate and refine. Look at what types of post gain engagement. See what time of day most people engage. Do more of what works and less of what doesn't.

JD Bruewer is a communications specialist and former journalist. He created the social media presence for St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, Ohio.

Helpful Links
4 Steps to Social Media Strategy: http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/files/2012/10/4-steps-social-media-strategy.jpeg

Which Platform is Best for Your Business: http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2014/03/05/social-media-platform-best-business/

Minimum Viable Personality: http://avc.com/2014/09/reblog-minimum-viable-personality/