We had another interesting discussion on this week's Association Chat (#assnchat) Tweet-up (Tuesdays at 2:00 ET). I recommended that associations (and all organizations for that matter) have a social media strategy to effectively leverage the plentiful tools that are now available to engage members and customers in productive online conversations.
However, I was challenged by my friend Jeff De Cagna who I respect as a thought leader in the association community and one who challenges conventional wisdom. Jeff is a skeptic of strategic planning and suggested that a social media strategy is likely unnecessary and may be perceived as too controlling. He recommended that you hand this off to smart people and let the communities grow organically. It sounds to me like he believes that if "we build it, they will come" or perhaps "let them build it, they will keep coming back."
While I agree with Jeff that long-term planning in this fast-paced world is a waste of time and traditional top-down planning may indeed be perceived as controlling the conversations, I hope that participants in #assnchat were not left with the impression that robust online communities can just happen and grow without any planning. I have seen that happen rarely when there is an overwhelming demand but more often these efforts fail even when there is real constituent interest.
A social media strategy can help organizations in many ways:
- Clarify business objectives that will define success for the organization
- Research user needs to make sure the community is of value to constituents
- Identify potential participants that are already sharing knowledge in other communities
- Plan for nurtuing the community (e.g. featuring interesting posts in an enewsletter)
- Mitigate risks by setting reasonable (not overly restrictive) rules of engagement
- Clarify roles for maintenance, support and leadership
I suspect that Jeff and I agree more than we disagree. Perhaps it is more about who we involve in the planning than whether or not planning is necessary. Our experience with social media provides solid evidence that those with thoughtful web strategies are much more likely to get it right for both the organization and its constituents.
To learn more about social media strategy, I invite you to participate in one of the following Ironworks events where I will be presenting in February:
- Social Media Successwebcast in collaboration with Oracle -- Friday, February 5 (11-noon ET)
- Social Media Win: a NASDAQ Case Study-- Presentation in collaboration with Microsoft at their North Central office in Bloomington, MN on Wednesday, February 17th (4:30-7:30 PM CT)
BTW, we have heard all the jokes about our Tweet-up hashtag and are determined to keep it. We now find it somewhat "endearing."