Social media clearly are a permanent fixture in the changing media landscape. Writers, editors, and other communicators of science need to consider social media a legitimate and effective way of reaching an audience.
Social media, quite simply, make it possible to get your content in front of more people. Facebook alone has become a formidable traffic driver: Analytics firm SimpleReach says that Facebook drives more traffic to media sites than any other social-media platform, and analytics company Parse.ly ranks Facebook second overall as a source of traffic, behind only Google, which, admittedly, has a massive lead.
But Facebook obviously isn’t the only player, and driving traffic isn’t the only game. Social media also allow you to develop your brand and increase its visibility. They can be the easiest way to control your digital image and get your brand recognized. And of course, they are the key to reaching the growing numbers of people who consume media exclusively online.
The biggest stumbling block for many organizations is not accepting that social media can be an important part of their digital future but rather learning how to use them effectively. Businesses often jump on social-media bandwagons without knowing why they are there or what they are doing and then find social-media success elusive. The key to avoiding that fate is to articulate a coherent social media strategy. There is no one-size-fits all approach to social-media success. It pays to develop a strategy that is tailored to your needs and abilities.
To begin with, identify your goals. What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to increase traffic to your Web site or boost your brand visibility? Are you trying to build a strong social-media follower base? If so, why? Spelling out your end game will help you to focus your attention and figure out the best way to achieve your goals.
Once you have identified your goals, assess the resources that you have at your disposal. What are your organization’s strengths? For example, do you publish freely accessible online content? Do you have access to interesting and shareable images? Are you in a position to curate news on a specific topic easily? Identifying your resources will allow you to choose a social-media platform that showcases your strengths. At the same time, you should clarify how much time and money, if any, you can invest to reach your goals. Do you have staff members who have the time and inclination to maintain social-media accounts? If your goals and resources are mismatched, one or the other must be adjusted.
Identifying your goals and resources will help you to choose the social-media platform that is best suited to your needs. A wide variety of platforms are available. Many share few traits other than simply being “social”—allowing people to connect with one another and share ideas and information online. It pays to familiarize yourself with most of the major social-media platforms and to keep an eye on emerging technologies. However, a good social-media strategy does not require maintaining a presence on as many platforms as possible but rather developing a presence that works for you and your brand. Don’t spread yourself too thin: remember that it is far easier to build equity into one social-media platform than into five.
To choose the platform that is right for you, identify the purpose and limitations of each platform that you are considering using. What is each platform designed for? What advantages does it offer you? How is it limited? Match your goals and resources as closely as possible with the social-media platforms that you have just assessed. Choose the ones not only that are best suited to give you what you want but that you have the resources to manage.
Suppose, for example, that you want to increase traffic to your site, your time is limited, you can’t keep up with fast-paced platforms, and your budget is low. In that case, Facebook is probably your best bet. It won’t require constant monitoring, it’s a proven traffic driver, and you won’t need a big budget to get good results.
Finally, and perhaps most important, define your metrics of success. What does success mean to you? How do you plan to measure it? Set clear targets for yourself, and monitor your progress consistently. Don’t underestimate the value of analytics. One of the great things about social media is that they provide almost instantaneous feedback. Use that feedback: Identify what works for you and what doesn’t, and modify your strategy accordingly.
Flexibility is an important part of social-media success. The social-media landscape is extremely dynamic: There are always new platforms, and the “rules” for established platforms change constantly. Posts that were popular on Facebook 2 years ago would not necessarily be popular today inasmuch as Facebook’s algorithm has changed drastically. Those sorts of changes make social media exciting, but they also emphasize the need for a coherent strategy. Once you’ve established the goals that you’re working toward and what resources you have to achieve them, it’s much easier to respond quickly and to try different platforms and approaches to maximize your return on investment.
There is no magic recipe for social-media success. What works for one organization or entity won’t necessarily work for another, and defining a successful social-media strategy can be confusing. However, clearly stating your goals, identifying your resources, assessing the purposes and limitations of individual social-media platforms, and defining your metrics of success will make it possible to choose an approach that you can manage and that will achieve what you desire.
MEGHNA SACHDEV is social media/ digital strategist at American Association for Advancement of Science, Washington, DC.