Strategic Social Media 101: Where to Begin

Continuing our recent run of a real wealth of guest articles, here comes another contribution from our old friend Beth Becker, who reminds us that in social media campaigning, we should to begin at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start. In the process she echoes a few points from the “Eight Simple Rules” chapter of Online Politics 101.

Strategic Social Media 101: Where to Begin

By Beth Becker

As social media has become more and more mainstream, our use of social media is becoming ever more sophisticated. Social media strategists like myself are spending more and more time wearing “data wonk” as our self-identity, and at times it can all be overwhelming. So as you begin to plan a social media campaign, what data do you need to take into consideration? Below is a set of questions I use to jumpstart my own planning, and the critical part is that the answers differ for every campaign I plan. And, the tools I use may differ depending on the goals.

1. What do I want to say?

After all, if you don’t have a message to convey why create a campaign to begin with?

2. To whom do I want to say it?

Who are the influencers you want to engage? This may well be the most important question in building your social media campaign. The answer will determine most of the answers to the remaining questions, and it’ll also focus your data-mining and targeting so that you’re not just throwing tweets/updates/pins into the aether and hoping they find an audience. Once you’ve determined the “who” in a broad sense, then you can dive into all kinds of targeting assistance tools to determine the specifics of who your audience is.

3. When do I want to say it?

And when I say “when,” I’m not just thinking in terms of defining the timeline for the campaign on the calendar: also think about when your audience is online. Older crowd? Tweeting at 3 am not such a great idea. College kids? Forget the 6 am Facebook post: they won’t see it. What’s the weather like? Cold weekends get more traffic/impressions than Easter Sunday dinner time. Several tools can analyze your immediate audience and tell you when they’re online, but I dream that somewhere out there a software developer exists who will extend that idea out to your potential reach instead of your (current) true reach. The real success of social media is based on your audience’s audiences of their own.

4. Who do I want my audience to repeat it to?

Who are your followers followers? And their followers? The important data point, as I alluded to above, isn’t who your actual audience or true reach is, it’s the potential reach. Think about it this way: if you have 1000 followers who each have 150 followers of their own, who in turn have 150 followers of their own, your true audience of 1000 now has the potential to reach over 2 million people. So one of the things to consider as you do your influence-targeting is, who do they influence? If you have a follower who is influential when they talk about women’s right to choose, then approaching that person to talk about abolishing the electoral college isn’t likely to work.

5. What areas of interest do my audience and I have in common?

This goes back to your targeted engagement. Think about your message, and find the people talking about it. Most importantly, find the people who are influencing others on that topic. This question will also help your non-campaign-specific content. Remember, it’s about being social. So, you don’t –and shouldn’t — stay on topic 100% of the time. It’s perfectly acceptable, in fact recommended, that you stray into related areas of interest as a way to grow your audience organically. Think of a dinner party — a one-topic talker can be a real bore.

6. Where does my audience live?

The answers to this not only can determine your posting times, but language choices (i.e. in the South frequently using y’all wouldn’t necessarily be frowned upon [Ed note: Damn straight, y’all]). If your campaign is regional as opposed to national, the local lingo becomes an important part of your content choices. Even in a national campaign, you may want to consider geography: sometimes where a person lives will determine which parts of your message they will connect with. A campaign about education in the northeastern U.S. targeting a specific elected official may not hold my attention with content that calls out a particular politician by name (they’re not MY rep, after all), but if the content also contains stats that I find relevant to education discussions where I live, then suddenly even a regional campaign can be relevant on a national scale.

7. How formal is my relationship with my audience?

This may seem trivial, but again it will help to determine your content, your language choices and should govern your actual engagement strategies.

8. What other components are there to this campaign, and how can social media complement them?

Here we go back to my often-preached premise of social media integration into an entire organization. Does the larger campaign include a door to door canvas? Phone banking? Rally? Press Conference? Letter-to-the-editor writing campaign? Each has social media tactics that can complement them. The truly successful social media campaign will not only work as a standalone effort but will mesh with non-digital aspects of the campaign as well.

8. Given the answers to the above questions, which platforms are most appropriate for this campaign?

This is without a doubt the most complicated of questions and I certainly won’t attempt to answer it here. As a start, you want to think about and study the demographics, content-relating strategies and and more for each platform. Contrary to what many might think, not every social media platform is relevant for every campaign. The successful strategists will realize this and adjust appropriately.

There are many sub questions that will determine your campaign strategy, but if you start with these top-level queries, the direction your social media campaign should take should become apparent.

Have other questions you ask yourself? Let me know in the comments….

Thanks Beth! – cpd

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Beth Becker
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