Over the summer, Holly Minch, who is an expert at helping nonprofits and philanthropies unlock the potential of strategic communications for social change, suggested that I facilitate a workshop on social media strategy with a group of nonprofit and philanthropy communications folks.
I'm so glad she did because for a while I've been wanting to better understand how a social media strategy can best align with overall communications strategies and where the nuances of implementation may different. How does designing (and implementing) a social media strategy easily support and enhance the overall communications mix? And where are the tensions? How to resolve those?
Last week, Holly's suggestion turned into a reality. I had the honor of working with a group of really smart communications practitioners who have decades of experience working with nonprofits and/or foundations. I learned a lot in terms of the content but also as a facilitator.
Aligning Social Media Strategy With Communications Strategy
I've facilitated many versions of the social media strategy game that I first co-taught with David Wilcox in the UK in January, 2007 and decided to create a new version for this group to get specific feedback on how to align the social strategy thinking process with the communications thinking process.
Some overall observations and insights from the participants:
- Focus on audience, messaging, and theory of change. The strategy discussions during the small group sessions were rich and focused on objectives. There was, however, the tension between the tactical versus keeping it at higher level. What's clear is the need for a very clear theory of change.
- Planning Time Frames Differ: I kept reminding people that the strategy they came up didn't have to be finished or perfect. That the learning was in the discussion, not necessarily the finished product. This group shared that they usually have many meetings to focus on the message, objective, audience, and research. I wondered about the Clay Shirky quote, "We spend more time trying to make something perfect, than we do if we just tried it and fixed it." Social media requires a little bit of micro planning - those small tests and this could be a tension point for social media strategy mixing with communications.
- Listening is more than free market research: With traditional communications planning, research is very important and there is a lot done on the front end. With social media, listening needs to incorporated into the research phase at the beginning but must also be used as the social media strategy unfolds (real time monitoring) and as ongoing evaluation.
- Fluidity of the social media implementation process is a benefit: The overall communications planning approach requires a lot of structure and discipline. As one participant said, "You have your communications plan but it sometimes can prevent you from jumping on opportunities. On the other hand, you need to have some framework to be able to jump on opportunities. This causes a lot of anxiety. But your social media strategy has this flexibility to react to issues and be adaptive."
- Experimentation and Metrics: Experimenting and tweaking and refining social media must be pegged to particular metrics and it is helpful to have some method for experimentation to reap all the learning. The important question is to ask, "to what end?
- Tool mastery may belong to younger people, but .. Experience and seasoned communications people can provide guidance on strategy, time management, and other values.
- Importance of Fast Failure: That's a difficult one to negotiate because staff members (or consultants) don't get paid to fail. It is important to define expectations, put mitigation plans into place, and embrace failures that will no doubt happen.
Some reflections I had on the materials:
- Situation: This is the description of the organization or network the same group is developing a strategy for. I've experimented with having very realistic and detailed scenarios, just a few sentences (the group makes up the rest), fictional scenarios that were fun, and not so detailed realistic scenarios. I think key is to keep it simple, if a group gets stuck because some detail is missing, encourage them to make it up.
- Point System: I need to rethink the point system based on the changes I've made the social media framework, especially some of the assumptions about social content. I need to revise the scoring system so it encourages the best social media strategic thinking.
- Cards: Some really good suggestions about having a sub header on the cards that describes an outcome. Also, include tip sheet that provides these tool is good for xyz, but not good for abc. Right now the cards have questions and this group was asking for experiential advice on the cards. I'm thinking a handout might work best because those evolving best practices tend to change quickly.
- Purpose Check: The last part of the exercise should circle back to the objective and discussion that asks does the strategy we created help us reach our strategic goal or not? List three reasons why this tool or tactic helps us reach our goal. There was a request for another set of cards that might have some metrics.
- Next Modules: This would include going in more depth on how to use the tools. I see this as the perfect design, similar to the WeAreMedia workshops. For example, deeper dives on the mechanics of listening, engaging, social networks, or social content.
Next week at the Communications Network Conference, my colleague Gordon Meyer from Community Media Workshop in Chicago is doing a 90 minute version of the "Social Media Strategy Game." I'll be curious to find out what they discover as I'll be doing a two-hour version of the game the week after next at PopTech.