Social Media Best Practices

The rise of social media has drastically changed the definition of community - no longer is it solely defined by geography and physical proximity. Because of this, organizations are increasingly using social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and more, to connect engage, interact and define how they relate to a wide spectrum of people in their daily lives.

Social media channels and initiatives are tools and tactics best used as part of a larger communications, marketing or outreach strategy. With the rapid changes to social media and social behavior, no area of marketing is changing more quickly than efforts employed in the social spaces.

These media channels can be used for a variety of purposes; it is wise to define the mission of one's social media "pages" or presence. When it comes to cultivating an audience, promoting a caring community, promoting advocacy (or all of the above), it is advisable to give thought to one's mission and purpose as a place to begin. Keeping in mind, by engaging in social media, you are initiating a conversation that is transparent to everyone. Responding to followers and supporters is as much a part of this effort as pushing information out. Information offered in this section includes:

  • What is Social Media (Overview)
  • The Basics of Social Media
  • Developing a Social Media Policy
  • Social Media Content
  • Promoting the Best Social Media Experiences
  • Integrating Social Media and Measurements
  • Conducting a Social Media Strategy (SMS) Assessment
  • Optimizing Your Social Media Schedule

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    Social media focuses on building social relations between people who have similar interest using a variety of networks that are most often Web-based, so that network members can interact over the Internet. Through social networking, ordinary people and experts, reporters, etc. can exchange ideas, debate issues, inspire others in their recovery experience and motivate others to take action by sharing media links, videos and other information.

    If you are not using social media, you are missing an opportunity not only to be part of or creation of conversations as they relate to one's ideas/issues/interests, but also to be a recognizable, reliable authority with respect to one's organization and to build an expanded community based on its mission/vision.

    Social media does not need to cost anything to use; you do need, however, to invest time into familiarizing yourself with each media channel to learn how one can best use them to forward your mission and goals, determining your social media policies and procedures and ensuring a process has been outlined for interacting within the channels.

    While there are many free social media channels, below are a sample of some of the key, user-friendly networks that reach huge audiences: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

    Social media best practices change constantly. And to expect that a organization (i.e., grassroots)will be equipped with the knowledge to appropriately participate would be, in most cases, incorrect. To start, organizations must access the "must dos" to share with staff, volunteers, etc. such as compliance and ethical considerations.

    A good place to begin is to decide what your organization feels are the best ways to communicate on social media channels. This my be always responding within a certain time frame or only responding to questions that can be answered publicly. When more designees for the organization become involved in the social media activity, more personalities and communication styles become representative of the brand you are promoting/advocating. Equipping these designees with the proper ways to speak and respond on social media channels, as well as the expectations and preferences, is important.

    It is wise to plan your social media efforts as part of your overall communications, marketing and outreach efforts. Some suggested steps to organizing a plan include:

  • What is the mission of your social media efforts? Support, education, outreach, advocacy, all of the above? Be clear on your mission and purpose and let this drive your decisions.
  • What other marketing and outreach efforts is your organization employing? Social media is part of a larger effort and should be utilized along with other activities. Are you posting news items, announcements, inspirational anecdotes, promoting sharing and posting call to action? It is likely that you are intending to do all of these? It is important that the person responsible for social media is connected to all other organizational efforts. Posts should relate to other organizational activities, echo calls to action promoted through email and the website and support information included in newsletters, meetings and conferences.
  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Make sure that posts coincide with other communications (newsletters, e-mails, meetings, website posts, etc.). Setting a schedule for posts and shares that matches other organizational efforts is advisable. Coordinating with organizational leadership is advisable.
  • Monitor and respond to questions, comments and requests. Remember that this is "social" and intended to be an all-way communication effort. Monitoring daily at a minimum is advisable.
  • Determine your social media guidelines and gain the endorsement of your leadership.(NOTE: It is important that organizations develop staff guidelines intended as operating policies for social media use - see below.)

  • Remember that engagement in social media activity does not cost anything to use; however, time invested in becoming familiar with each network or site will help ensure success.

    Define Social Media Organizational Goals

    Ideally social media activities should tie back to the roles and goals of the staff/volunteers and the organization. For example: A volunteer who is not part of the staff or designated as a spokesperson should not be responsible to questions from the media about an advocacy position. At least a few times each year, take some time to define your social media goals and how they fit in with your other marketing efforts. Are you wanting to encourage conference/seminar attendance/participation, build a buzz for an event/meeting or promote a specific advocacy effort? Think about how your social media efforts can and should create positive experiences to help bring your organization (or affiliate) and your network community together.

    Setting Rules and Responsibilities for Your Social Media Operators

    Creating Content » Overseeing Process » Approving Content » Administration

    Just as there are likely rules applied for speaking tot he media, managing email and websites and answering phone requests, the same considerations apply with social media. Thinking through the "who should have the ability to do what?" question, you should consider the following:

  • Who needs to only be able to create content to share across social media channels?
  • Who should oversee this activity?
  • Are there types of content that need to be approved before sharing, and if so, who needs to be assigned as the approver of this content? Is it one person or a team of people?
  • Who should manage the administrative rights to social media accounts like passwords and access to specific channels?
  • Are there people who need to be able to view social activity, but not necessarily have the right to create and engage across channels?

  • Etiquette » Organizational Goals » Policies & Procedures » Administration

    The best way to ensure success with your social media efforts and inoculate your organization, staff or volunteers against potential conflict is to ensure that you have a social media policy in place. This joint agreement of sorts can be as short as one page or lengthy to cover communications examples and best practices. No one policy fits all, but at the very least, these should include:

  • Ethics of engaging in social media
  • What channels it should cover (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)?
  • Exercising good judgment and parameters of what that entails
  • Respecting copyrights and confidentiality
  • Protecting sensitive organizational information
  • Personal responsibility of staff and volunteers
  • Encouraging honesty and transparency; and
  • Consequences of actions and how to seek permission/help when needed

  • Staff Guidelines for Social Media Participants

    The following are sample internal guidelines for social media use. These are intended as operating policies that are reviewed regularly and updated to reflect the changing social media climate.

    Social media participants posting and responding to organizational social networking channels must be authorized by an [organizational executive] and work under the guidance of an [organization director]. Only authorized staff members are allowed to posit, monitor and respond in the organization's social networking pages including the media channels Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Blog Sot and others. All organizational social media sites should include the [organization director] and other identified staff as administrators with full access to all passwords. Activity plans, photos and graphics, postings and measurement data are to be approved/reported as requested.

    The purpose of the organization's social media engagement is to support the organization's marketing and communications strategy and to expand the organizational community through online engagement. The following rules for engagement for the organization apply:

  • All existing HR policies will apply when using or posting to organizational social media channels.
  • The organization will represent staff from various departments and will be monitored under the guidance of the [organization director]; other employees can submit ideas for posts/written content.
  • Monitoring response and responding to questions/feedback should be engaged as appropriate and in a timely fashion.
  • Organizational comments become public domain. The organizational style guide rules and writing style apply. Posts should stay consistent with organizational themes, image and mission.
  • Social media channels are not a substitute for inter-office communication. Important information should be sent via normal office communication mediums.
  • Personal conversations between co-workers or volunteers are also not appropriate for social networking channels.
  • Posts should be meaningful, for example: no Tweets or Facebook posts about the weekend of the weather.
  • Video/graphics and any copyrighted material is not to be used without expressed consent.
  • Posting private organization information, information gained from conversations with colleagues (unless given permission to do so), confidential information, legal information or financial information pertaining to the organization, its affiliates, membership or supporters is not allowed.
  • In the event incorrect or misleading information is posted, such content will be removed. Retractions or additions to previously posted information must be made clearly visible.
  • When dealing with negative comments posted by others on social media channels, the organization must be careful about what they censor. If it is constructive criticism, the organization should engage the person with a well-considered response rather than simply deleting the comment. Over censoring can hinder credibility.
  • All posts must be substantiated (i.e., never post information about the organization or an individual that is misleading or false; the organization should never post or submit anything of which they are not 100 percent confident, etc.

  • When it is said "content is crucial" with it comes to website content, the same is true when it applies to social media. Conversations and interactions are encouraged by content, and responses become content in and of themselves. A large challenge for organizations is planning content in advance, if possible, and allowing for live, real-time content posts - all while striving to protect the organization by ensuring that the staff or volunteer does not say or use the wrong, or even inappropriate, content.

    Planning Content Proactively

    One of the benefits of social media is that it offers all-way communication. So if time is spent on creating and sharing content throughout the day or week, the organization will miss the real opportunity of networking. However, content can be "mapped" in advance so that proactive engagements are included in strategy.

    For example: If an organizational program is planning a marketing effort with a goal to register 30 individuals for an event that begins on February 24, posts to Facebook can be planned in advance, beginning in early January, to promote the program and event. Sample posts planned and implemented periodically over several weeks may include:

  • A general post on the program with a link to the web
  • An announcement that the program is open for registration, including the date and registration
  • A personal story mention that links to the full story posted on a blog or the web
  • A link to a news article that highlights the virtues of the program or other news announcement
  • A post and link to a video about the program, online via the organizational website
  • A reminder of registration with an update on how many openings are available
  • A final announcement of the program event with a thanks to the community for helping to promote the program to their networks.

  • Reproducing Existing Content on Social Networks

    Not all social content can be something that is repurposed from other channels (i.e., links to Web content, news notices, forwards of other posts, etc.) However, messages that are chosen for posts should not vary widely from the messages used in the organization's newsletters, website and other channels.

    A good rule of thumb is to ask, "does this provide value to the people who are part of this online community?" If the answer is probably yes, then post away!

    Some examples of relevant or existing content that can be repurposed to organizational social network posts include:

  • Information on specific events (i.e., webinars, seminars, etc. - including a search for sponsors)
  • Conference promotions - including early registration discounts
  • A membership drive
  • Videos and pictures from events
  • Volunteer or paid job searches
  • Organizational advocacy announcements
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Program or educational event information
  • Organizational announcements or breaking news, such as highlighting results from a recent meeting
  • An "in the mail" announcement of a print newsletter or publication (i.e., monthly magazine)
  • Special membership discounts or promotions

  • Assessing and Adjusting as Needed

    Once content is posted or published on social networks, the effort is not over, Part of capitalizing on this social media effort is monitoring and reviewing what types of content are most effective. This includes the amount of comments and shares generated from a post as well as other conversations that my be ignited. For example: Using the measurement tools that are available from Facebook, Twitter and Google Analytics accounts, and tracking those weekly/monthly, as well as a per-post review, will offer insights and help with future plans. Items to watch or track might include:

  • What content was shared most?
  • Who are the people who are most engaged?
  • What messages received the most traction?
  • How have the posts translated to website traffic?
  • What activity that has resulted (i.e., sponsors, members, registration)?
  • What time of day and day of the week are most popular?
  • What networks are the most popular?

  • Regardless of the strategy and content, being on social media networks is the beginning. Ensuring that members of the community have positive experiences - questions are answered promptly or individuals are motivated or inspired - is part of ensuring a successful effort.

    Part of the expectation imbedded in social media is an "I want it now" belief. At the end of the day, the main goal of the organization should be to make the users' engagement meaningful. To ensure this, it might be helpful to consider:

  • Asking questions. Proactively asking your followers what they want promotes a feeling of value and connectivity.
  • Answering questions. When followers ask a question, everyone sees it. And they also not only benefit from seeing the answer, but also in seeing how quickly and clearly the response is posted. On most social networks, individuals can also send private questions. Determining how timely these are monitored and responded to ensures a best experience.
  • Offering pre-empted questions. Anticipating questions and then asking, as well answering, them via posts brings unique value to the community.
  • Inviting opinions. "To screen or not to screen?" as a post regarding specific organizational programs or issues promotes an open discussion and creates new thoughts and engagements.
  • Offering incentives. There may be increases in interaction when "first to reply receive front row seating" type offers are posted.

  • What's Next

    When a social networker "likes" or "follow" an organization on Twitter, Facebook or other social media channel, it indicates that they want to follow activity. Marketing is part of that expectation. These followers want to learn about events, services, programs, etc. and/or most importantly, want to receive information on specific topics or issues that an organization advocates.

    Social media followers are wise to model traditional communities, so social media posts should echo experiences and promote activities whose primary focus is not solely meant from a marketing prospective. Monitoring the community and posting content that promotes experiences, as well as being mindful not to over post for marketing purposes, is a balancing act. When the balance is best, the community will thrive.

    Social media is part of a larger picture, not an isolated island. Integrating the use of social media channels with other systems helps drive a successful marketing and PR effort and provides insight for organizational leadership. It can also provide data and information that can be used in many ways (i.e., reporting on specific programs or events to current or potential sponsors/donors).

    Participants in social media channels do not lose their social tendencies when they leave an online page or site. They also look to engage with the organization via other ways. Integrating social media into all efforts promotes interaction and engagement and builds community. Ways to integrate social media with other ONLINE and OFFLINE (more traditional) marketing channels include:

  • Posting social media links on organizational or affiliate websites, including promotional signage or messages
  • Producing and distributing online content (enewsletters and including social media links in all print materials, including brochures and newsletters including an invitation to "like" or "follow' at the end of all email messaging
  • Building advocacy campaigns with strong social media presence, etc.

  • ROI (Return on Investment

    There is much debate surrounding the return on social media investments. Measurement can be vague and can mean many things to different people. Recognizing that social media is a component of a good marketing or PR plan as well as a community in and of itself is likely a good place to begin the thought process. Additionally, there as an ever increasing array of automated marketing systems and online tools being made available to collect/analyze/interpret social media data (i.e., Google Analytics). Use of such tools are useful in helping to measure the use and effectiveness of social media activities as they related to overall marketing strategies in achieving organizational goals and objectives.


    The extent of the social media reach is an important measurement that is easy for many to grasp. How man "likes" or "follows" do you have? Setting a benchmark and measuring against that anchor is an easy-to-see measure of effectiveness and shows how many people you are reaching. This data can be used to help prove success in accomplishing larger organizational goals. Some measures include:

  • Growth of current network
  • Mentions by members of the community
  • Content shared (i.e., forwards, re-tweets, etc.)

  • Activity

    To fully report both the investment of time being given to the social media effort, as well as the benefits, measuring both inputs and outputs is helpful. Knowing how often you are posting and how much time is spent monitoring and responding is one part of the equation. The other is the actual content and how it relates to other efforts, including program marketing, event promotion or advocacy campaigns. Some measures to consider include:

  • The total amount of content published across social networks during a time frame
  • The number of posts published
  • Amount of content by type (i.e., program, advocacy, event, etc.)

  • Engagement

    The expectation of most organizations is that after they post information, it is shared widely. This is the ultimate beauty of social networks - the viral capacity of the activity. While not all engagements are valued the same, it does help to illustrate that people are in fact interacting within your community and that, in some way, what you are doing has value to them. Measuring engagement is essential as people are find a way to voice opinions and interact with organizations in ways not imagined less than a decade ago.
    Measurements to consider include:

  • Number of retweets and mentions on Twitter
  • Number of clicks onto a blog
  • Growth in followers or likers
  • Numbers of followers or likers
  • Number of "influencers" sharing your content
  • Average response time to a question or comments
  • Conversions to take action requests, including advocacy alerts, donations, registration, etc.

  • Other Considerations

    With the rapid pace and ever-expanding change in technology, organizations must embrace new communications methods and tactics over time, and as a result, the role of social media will also change. This includes the use of:

  • Mobile Apps
  • New Social Media Channels
  • Photo Sharing, etc.

  • » What do you want to accomplish?
    » Determine Social Media Process Maturity Level
    » Understand/Rank Challenges to Developing SMS
    » Monitoring News, Blog and Social Media
    » Metrics: Defining targeted/measurable objectives for social media purposes
    » Social Marketing Architecture

    What Do You Want to Accomplish

  • Define measrable and targeted objectives
  • Rank your objectives

  • Objective                                                      Category
    Increase website traffice                          Brand Awareness/Thought Leadership
    Increase lead generation                        Donation/Lead Generation
    Increase donor/member revenue          Donation/Membership/Lead Generation
    Improve public relations                          Brand awareness/Thought Leadership

    Determine Social Media Process Maturity Level

    No Process » Informal Process (Randomly Performed) » Formal Process (Routinely Performed)

  • Gather intelligence on target audiences, social media use and competition
  • Define objectives aligned with target audiences and social metrics
  • Create a SMS with a tactical plan of action; and
  • Select platforms that fit social marketing architecture and tactics

  • Understand/Rank Challenges to Developing SMS

  • Increase website traffic through social media integration
  • Improve brand awareness/reputation
  • Converting social media members, followers, etc. into donors/volunteers/members
  • Integrating social marketing data with CRM and other marketing systems; and
  • Recruiting interdepartmental staff to perform social marketing activities

  • Monitoring

    Creating an inventory of the details, keywords and people you should be monitoring.

    Analyze News, Blog and Social Media

  • Determine who is saying what and where they are saying it
  • Find influencers
  • Understand tone (positive, negative, neutral)
  • Segment and prioritize
  • Track
  • Engage (Tweet, email journalist, blogger, etc.)
  • Activate, interact or engage with audiences to solicit donations, promote campaigns, promote volunteerims, etc.

  • Segment Your Audience

    Attainment of viral effect - exponentially increasing the reach of the message beyond your immediate audience through conversation and content sharing.

    Silent Majority

  • Joins but rarely participates
  • Reads/watches/listens to User-Generated Content (UGC)
  • Lowest level of social influence

  • Vocal Minority

  • Joins and actively participates
  • Shares UGC and commentary
  • Medium level of social influence

  • Social Authority

  • Builds/moderates community
  • Creates and aggregates UGC
  • Highest level of social influence

  • Metrics

    Blogs: In terms of measurement, blogs have the advantage of being able to utilize many of the traditional Web analytics. Code is simply added to track visitor traffic, source, behavior and other metrics.

    Other social metrics to track:

  • Comments - tracking both the number and sentiment of opinions shared
  • Subscribers - growth trends by email or RSS subscription
  • Conversions (i.e., donations, volunteerism, etc.)
  • Inbound links - indicator of blog authority
  • SERPs - Search engine ranking position for key terms on major SEs
  • Blog Authority - Blog ranking in relation to similar categories on blog directories

  • Microblogs: Practice of blogging with posts of 140 characters or less (i.e., Twitter). Similar to social networking.

  • Followers - number of those opting-in to or following a microblog
  • Downstream Followers - the number of those following the followers
  • Posts - referred to as "tweets" on the most predominant microblog, Twitter
  • Velocity - growth rate of the follower network in a given period
  • Passion - ratio of number of posts to number of followers

  • Social Networks: Social networks are primarily people-focused (i.e., Facebook)

  • Community - number of fans, group members, contacts, etc.
  • Demographics - profile information on community members
  • Referrals - tracking the click stream from networks to content
  • Discussions - tracking both number and sentiment of group discussions
  • Applications - usage of widgets/social media apps< by network community

  • Multimedia Content Sharing Sites: Sharing sites for video, photography, documents, presentations and audio content (i.e., YouTube, flickr, iTunes, Pintrest, Vimeo, etc.). These sites aggregate content and enable individuals to share without having to rely on IT via links posted on bligs, social networks, email campaigns and other communication channels.

  • Views - number of content downloads
  • SERPs - search engine ranking position for key terms on major SEs
  • Subscribers - number of those opting-in to the multimedia content stream
  • Referrals - tracking the click stream from content to conversion

  • Social Marketing Architecture

    The number of social media sites in your social marketing architecture is not important. What is important is that they each have a clearly defined purpose that supports your tactical plan of action.

    Hub and Spoke Design: In a "hub and spoke design," the sites at the center of the architecture are destination points for content and conversion. The surrounding sites are for building communities, engaging friends, fans and followers, and directing them into the hub of the architecture to obtain content - eventually converting them to a lead, donor, volunteer, etc.

    Architecture platforms to choose from:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Microblog
  • Social Network
  • Multimedia Sharing
  • Bookmarking/News
  • Community/Forums
  • Partner/Third Party

  • Tips for Avoiding the Social Media Time Quagmire

    Making time to execute on a social media strategy can rattle even the most experienced marketers. Unlike traditional marketing, social media marketing can present many different challenges and distractions. According to recent research, a majority of marketers find the time to create content as their biggest marketing challenge.

    If you are involved with implementing social media marketing, you know that 20 minutes a day just won't cut it. On top of implementing social media tactics, there's also the task of staying current with upcoming social tools used to collect, filter and curate social media marketing.

    Avoiding Shiny Object Pitfalls

    To begin with, try to avoid wating time by prioritising your week. While it is true that unexpected issues can come up, plan for the best and the worst. If you have 3 hours per day on average to complete tasks related to social media strategy, what will you get accomplished in those 3 hours? If you wereonly to have 1.5 hours per day, what would you want to get accomplished? Proper planning will lead to improved prductivity and efficiency. Also, take some time to determine what your top distractions are and if you can't eliminate them, at least try to find ways to minimize their effect.

    Optimize for Productivity

    Focus on what will have the largest impact on your productivity. Determining what time of day you are most productive, and which activities are most significant will help you stay on track. Creating a daily schedule and routine can significantly improve your productivity. You will also want to keep in mind statistical data wich points to the best times of day and days of the week for engaging in social media activity. For example: Studies can provide valuable insight into the best times of day to share or engage on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

    Some recent findings include:


  • 5 p.m. — best time to Tweet for re-tweets
  • 1-4 per hour — most effective frequency of Tweets
  • Midweek & Weekends — best days to Tweet
  • Noon & 6 p.m. — best time to Tweet for increase click-thorugh-rates

  • Facebook

  • Saturday — best day to share on Facebook
  • Noon — most effective time to share on Facebook
  • 5 per day — best sharing frequency

  • Tools for Optimizing Social Media

    Depending on your available timne and social media content strategy, there are many tools that can help you accomplish more with less time:

    Curation Tools — good for quicly gathering and automatically sharing content

  • Scoop.it
  • Storify
  • Pearltrees

  • Social Aggregators & Management Tools — follow and engage with multiple platforms

  • Hootsuite
  • Tweetdeck
  • Seesmic — just to name a few

  • Social Bookmarking — effetive means of organizing and storing social bookmarks

  • Stumble Upon
  • Reddit
  • Delicious
  • Evernote — not exactly a bookmarking tool, but very useful for curating

  • Next Steps

    Having a good Social Media Strategy Toolkit is essential for implement and maintaining and effective and efficient social marketing strategy. To maintain a better focus on the tasks at hand, consider the following questions:

  • What are your top 3 social media goals and do you have a plan for reaching them?
  • How much time can you dedicate each day to using tactics to reach these goals?
  • What steps can you take to improve your focus, while completing social media activities?
  • Which type of tool: curation, aggregator, or social bookmarking can you use to help save time?