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I’m a little surprised by how many of the Manship School of Mass Communication PR Campaigns teams are having difficulty getting nonprofits to utilize social media. What’s even more surprising is how many of these nonprofits want to communicate their messages to young adults without using social media. It’d be one thing if your target audience was 80-year-olds with no Internet connection – then terrestrial radio would do the trick. But, when you are talking about young adults (the generation that is NOT plugged in waiting patiently at home for you to push your message to them) – a generation that according to this PEW report is roaming, clicking, media-multitasking, publishing and commenting – you need to get them involved in your message.

When I talk to clients about their reluctance to social media use I regularly get the following three questions:

1. Do I have to use social media?

2. Do I have to use more than one?

3. What do I talk about?

Let me address each question, now, in detail, so there are no future questions about how I feel about this.

Do I have to use social media?

ABSOLUTELY! Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are no longer optional. They are necessary.

And these data are old folks – we’re talking September 2009. Social media sites have exploded since then!!! If you are not using them to talk to your audience(s) then someone else is. And I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I prefer to go with the person/company/product I have a relationship with. Without social media you are handing your audience over to someone else, period.

Do I have to use more than one?

ABSOLUTELY! Your audience members are media-multitasking. They are looking at different things different times of the day. If you put your message on just one social medium you will likely miss them. Also, if you put your message out just one time you will miss them as well. This is the same as advertising (think of the rule of three). You have to put your message out to your audience multiple times before they process it.

“Ugh, but that’s going to take me so much time,” you whine. Not so fast. NPR’s Daniel Jacobson sums it all up in COPE (create once, publish everywhere). Programs like Hootsuite can combine all your social media in one location. Allowing you to broadcast all your messages at one time (and even set up schedules for multiple/future distributions). The nifty site also allows you to track all your social media traffic so you can evaluate the effectiveness of your messages:)

What do I talk about?

Surprisingly, you don’t just talk about yourself/your organization/ your product. That’s not how a conversation works. If you met someone who just talked about themselves non-stop you’d get pretty annoyed with the conversation and quickly find someone else to talk to. Preferably someone who performs the give-and-take that is normal in a two-way conversation. Someone who gave you information you could use (and take your information and use it).

My students worked with a client a few semesters ago named Bovine Basics. I told each student group to come up with a social media communication plan for the company. Initially, each group came back to me with drafts of weekly posts about the product – which is cow manure. I quickly realized what the problem was. They were treating social media like it was advertising. They wanted to use social media to broadcast messages about “anaerobic digestion” and “eco-friendly production” of cow poop.

But what the students didn’t understand was their audience didn’t want to hear about cow poop (especially not on a weekly basis). They wanted to know WHY they should use the product, HOW they should use the product, and WHAT the product was good for. The audience was a bunch of growers. So the students had to start a conversation about growing things using organic fertilizers with this audience. One student group went through past issues of Better Homes and Gardens to find out planting cycles, fertilizing cycles, etc. and created social media dialogue with customers. What a great idea (and wonderful alternative to talking about cow poop non-stop)!

Baby Steps to the Social Media

At this point, I am reminded of the Bill Murray movie, What About Bob?  Even after I address these concerns, the client is still hesitant to use social media. So my last bit of advice is to sign up and lurk/stalk/spectate. Just STOP BEING INACTIVE.

Take your first baby step by joining. Then take another baby step by following other people/organizations who do what you do, share things you think are interesting, etc. Then take another baby step by retweeting/sharing with your followers. Your final step will be to create your own conversations (and they should be conversations – not broadcasts). You’re trying to build two-way relationships with people, not yell at them at the top of your lungs.