ICF OPINION

Beyond Facebook and Twitter: Finding Your Balance for Social Media

It’s easy to think of social media as a simple thing. How hard is it to set up a Facebook page and post some messages? At face value, not hard. How hard is it to keep an eye on what users are posting and respond occasionally? Again — not hard. Why, then, do so many organizations have so much trouble using social media effectively?

What seems simple is really a complex and ever-evolving series of choices for how to use social technologies. For example, should you be more proactive about customer service on Twitter? Is Facebook still good for reaching your younger audiences, or is it time to invest more in Instagram? How do you respond to an angry citizen? Is Periscope worth investing in? And each choice is actually a strategic decision that defines who your organization is and how it does or does not interact with citizens. With social media, there is no single right path forward.

Still, we all want to avoid the many, many paths that lead to great expense and very little return on investment. Balance is the key to staying on the right path for your organization. There are three critical systems working together to make social media successful:

  • Strategy—The underlying understanding — in context with the audience, the platforms and the business — that defines what success looks like.
  • Management—The daily, weekly, monthly and ad hoc work of implementing social media in support of the strategy. Management includes the work of continually measuring results and making small, iterative changes to improve those results.
  • Infrastructure—The governance, staff structures and supporting investments in tools, headcount and skills to enable effective management.

Social Media Approach

As an organization’s social media work evolves, so too do the demands on each of these systems. And because evolving each system takes a different set of collaborators, it’s easy for one part of the triad to overbalance another:

  • Team A sets new priorities (strategy), but fails to update metrics targets (management) to align with the new strategy.
  • Team B changes the social media management workflows (management), but fails to update the tools (infrastructure) to support the work.
  • Team C gets creative with new ways to engage followers (management), but fails to adhere to or update governance policies (infrastructure) that prohibit that kind of work.

At ICF, our social media teams think about balance quite a bit. We look at every problem through a strategy lens, a management lens and an infrastructure lens. As we solve an immediate problem, we also step back to look at underlying, systemic questions that can be addressed to prevent the problem in the future.

Years ago, we started work for a company in a highly regulated industry. We picked up where they’d left off, using the existing processes and policies. We were crafting content and posting. All was well. Then, a stakeholder group inside the company changed their group’s approach to monitoring and responding on social media. The group hadn’t previously been involved in reviewing content and their assumptions and expectations about what was being posted were different from the status quo. It was time for a more sophisticated approach to social media for the whole organization.

We addressed the management systems with updated workflows. We addressed the infrastructure by creating new, more detailed content standards. And we pivoted the strategy to better align the expectations of all stakeholders. By regaining balance, our client built bridges with internal stakeholders and improved the customers’ experience with the brand on social media.

Point of Contact

Lindy Dreyer | Digital Strategist | lindy.dreyer@icfi.com 

Mary CarterLindy Dreyer draws from more than 17 years of experience in marketing and business consulting. Her expertise spans both traditional and new media. Lindy has worked extensively with clients to develop social media strategies addressing a wide range of challenges — from organizational structure, staffing and governance to content planning, platform selection and social media measurement and evaluation. She has worked with commercial, nonprofit, association and federal government clients across a variety of industries.

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