Associations Have to Incorporate Social Media Identity into Branding
When an organization takes a serious look at making use of social media marketing, most put plenty of effort into a plan or strategy, but often overlook how important their social media identity is. Defining an organization's social media identity is frequently a footnote (if that) to the overall plan, and is merely seen as an extension of any other branding guidelines and policies already in place.
This is a mistake.
What Your Choices Say About Your Social Media Identity
As anyone who grew up watching Heritage Minutes can tell you, the medium is the message. The platforms your organization chooses to use for its social media marketing are as important to defining its identity as are your branding guidelines and policies.
Although your social media identity certainly has to keep in line with your overall branding rules, each social media platform is going to have a different effect. The individual platforms each represent a unique set of tools, capabilities, purposes, and community that creates a lens through which that branding will unavoidably be shaped and perceived. A "one size fits all" approach likely won't be appropriate or sufficient if you want your social media marketing efforts to succeed.
Your social media identity will assume a different face depending on the social media platforms your organization chooses to use. This is because every platform has its own capabilities and social networking methods that create the appeal that defines its dominant users and audience. These same factors also largely define a user's social media voice by placing boundaries on how one must interact with the software, thus shaping the message it is able to deliver.
The Right Social Media Platform for the Job
Let's look at a number of popular social media platforms in the context of how they can affect your organization's social media identity.
- Facebook: Lots of people, businesses, and organizations use this social media platform. It offers a broad range of functionality (e.g., personal, group, or business pages), each of which has its own features and limitations. You can share just about any sort of content, including copy, video (including live streaming), audio files, links, images, and just about any file type via its popular Direct Messaging. Facebook also offers extensive analytics to business pages, breaking metrics down into several very detailed categories. Hashtags and being able to "tag" other users, groups, and businesses makes spreading one's message relatively easy. Because there are so many options available, Facebook is arguably the easiest social media platform for shaping your social media identity into what you want. Facebook Live also allows quick, personal, and versatile video access to your audience.
- Twitter: Twitter is a large audience consisting of individuals, organizations (including associations), and the largest corporations and businesses. A big advantage is the ability to schedule content ahead of time, which is good because the character limitation often requires multiple posts to deliver complex messages. This limitation fits well with shaping a personality and quickly interacting with your audience, but forces an economy of messaging that can sometimes be debilitating. Twitter is great for a more conversational, personal approach directly between your organization's brand and its audience. Extensive use of hashtags and being able to tag other users makes audience growth easier. Limited analytics are available.
- Yelp: Not very useful for B2B associations, most organizations in the sector won't get much use from this customer-centric social media platform. Yelp is mostly responsive in nature, meaning it is intended to provide a place for your audience to offer reviews and feedback of your services, facilities, etc. As such, your social media identity can easily be put on the defensive here rather than allowing you to shape it proactively.
- Linkedin: Because of its business positioning, your audience is limited to other professionals and businesses. Networking is largely limited to finding and following a thread of shared interest, such as a type of business or skill set. Audience growth beyond these limits can be very difficult, but the opportunity to generate discussion and share critical information and marketing content is worth it. Unfortunately, Linkedin has discarded many of its more useful capabilities and tools over the years, such as toning back on what one can gather metrics on and what those metrics offer. The standard ideal of "professionalism" is expected in most interactions, and the ties between socialization and your organization's branding is perhaps the strongest here than any other social media platform. Don't forget that Linkedin also shares information regarding who you are viewing, so looking in on your competition or audience is not done anonymously.
- Google+: Although rumours of this social media platform's demise persist, it continues to hold on. It is popular for discussion groups that easily allow sharing media, makes use of hashtags, and allows for quick cross-posting. You also cannot beat the fact it is integrated into the Google web of services, giving it a fast track to indexing content with Google. Its limits are stark, however: it is sparsely populated compared to other social media platforms, and analytics is (currently) limited to what you can pull through for other websites or your Google business page entry in the form of Insights. Value to business has also taken a severe hit when Google Authorship was killed off. Today, this platform is a mixed bag best defined as being what you make of it -- you will need to experiment a lot with Google+ to determine what your appropriate social media identity for it should be.
- Youtube: As another component of Google's platform network, Youtube content indexes quickly and well compared to other video options, so take advantage of it. Tags are integrated into Google's keyword system to improve this. There is extensive opportunity to cross-promote with other content, but there is little control because accurate searches require other video posters properly categorize and tag their own videos for accuracy. Established analytics tools, coupled with live streaming capabilities, make for a useful platform for creating a visual social media identity. However, the sheer volume of content can make progress daunting unless your strategy ties your Youtube videos into other content off-site. (Keep in mind many organizations also ban access to Youtube from their offices, so this can limit audience access.)
- Vimeo: Youtube's greatest competition for businesses, Vimeo has a reputation as a "professional" video resource compared to the former's "anything goes" approach. Vimeo has no advertising but this comes with a price tag if you want anything more than a rudimentary account. This also serves to keep the content spam-free and better targeted by filtering out the mass upload of mindless content made by anyone and everyone with a smartphone. Paid accounts also provide greater security and choices for how your content is shared. You may, for example, make some videos only accessible to people you choose (by a variety of methods) rather than the general public. Analytics ("stats") are very limited unless you pay, with more expensive accounts offering more options and detail. Although it lacks the exposure of Youtube, Vimeo provides greater control and selectiveness when it comes to how you incorporate video into your social media identity.
- Instagram: This social media platform is useful to associations with highly visual elements, especially if they take lots of photos and videos of events and the like. The platform has integrated sharing functions for other social media platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) that expands its usefulness and ability to expand your organization's integrated social network options. The visual rather than informative nature of posts means you'll likely be limited to audience exposure on "off hours." Hashtags makes creating content themes easy and allows you to plug into established content. Comments accompanying photos and videos supply additional context and personality, allowing your organization to be more light-hearted and playful with its posts.
- Pinterest: Associations with a strong visual element can get a lot of mileage out of Pinterest, but otherwise establishing a notable social media identity with this platform will likely be a lot of wasted energy. Its search engine is weighted towards recent content, so your identity has to constantly be updated with new visual content, which can be a lot of work for an association looking to establish and retain relevancy. A useful feature, and major advantage for an organization that wants to push for audience feedback, is the audience's ability to influence your social media identity here by means of how they choose to re-pin and categorize your posts in combination with posts from other users. As such, Pinterest is likely not the best option for associations looking to retain absolute, rigid control over their branding.
Of course, there are more social media platforms available beyond those mentioned here but these are among the most common associations will look at to use. As you can see, the features, limitations, and community each platform offers will contribute to shaping the social media identity you are able (or desire) to present through it. Once your tools have been selected, the time has come to shape the identity you will present to your audience via social media.
Shape Your Social Media Identity
Aside from knowing the limits and benefits of the social media resources you choose to engage for your organization, you will need a persona to filter through them. By assuming a unique social media identity that defines the sort of "voice" you will use and how you shall respond to feedback, questions, and criticism, you do several things:
Firstly, you enable a sense of continuity throughout your social media. Regardless of how long any one person involved with posting social media remains with your organization, your posts will remain congruous so long as everyone sticks to the designed identity. No one in your audience ever need know who is actually posting or when the role changes hands.
Secondly, you gain more control over your message because you can define how they are delivered as necessary rather than as limited by any one's personal preferences. You can be boring-but-informative, cheeky-but-on-brand, snarky-but-compelling, or any other combination of personality that serves your purposes and brand.
Thirdly, the creativity involved in assuming and maintaining a constructed social media identity keeps your posts fresh and engaging. As much as some people may not want to admit it, few of us can be entirely interesting all the time. We can become boring, especially if we present the same thing over and over to our audience. The creativity an assumed identity affords loosens the boundaries we normally put on ourselves and lets us step outside our comfort zone more easily, putting the "social" back into "social media" in a way our audience is more likely to notice.
Organizations aside, even individuals in the not-for-profit sector (e.g., consultants) should consider taking on a social media identity that is a caricature of themselves. As mentioned, doing so keeps the social media process fresh and can help it from becoming a tedious chore. Sometimes, being ourselves is exhausting, so it can be both liberating and invigorating to change things up a bit and present to our audience a version of ourselves that only exist in our imagination.
When all is said and done, the social media identity an organization designs for itself is little more than a modern aspect of branding, as required by the digital age. Don't let your association get lost in the past by not properly taking one on.
Developing a social media identity for your association can be assisted by the CSAE CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck. If you want to establish an identity that is unique to your digital space and audience, you'll have to look at how your organization is represented and branded beyond conventional thinking. You'll need to find new ways to appropriately frame how your association interacts with that audience.
Click a Card to See its Content
If you want to learn more about taming your organization's social media, you need to see what Randall Craig says in his book, Online PR & Social Media: For Experts, Authors, Consultants and Speakers. Within, you'll get all manner of helpful tips and advice from this social media expert.