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Mariner Management & Marketing LLC

Social Media & The Search for Engagement

Thursday, November 5, 2009 - 1:46pm

Public Relations Society of America Maryland Chapter has tried it all – FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging. Success happened when they focused these on a specific event. International Special Events Society DC Chapter found success when it followed its members – rather than leading. Maryland Recycling Network is on Plan B. Plan A, a wiki, fizzled. That was probably good news because it led to a different path that wasn’t even in our minds.

We’re all asking for the secret to building engagement in our social media initiatives. The path to success is littered (quite literally if you consider the many “ghost communities”) with failures. I see the failures as being the secret to success. Our missteps have actually driven Mariner and our association management clients to learn lessons about members, grow closer to members in that process, discover new technologies, and improve with each attempt. I will share the stories behind the three efforts over the next couple of posts, but here are a few of our gleanings.

Want is not enough. MRN’s board wanted to build a collaborative knowledge base. They didn’t however match this to their list of priorities. We built the wiki, populated it with a few entries, did a show-n-tell and nudged, cajoled and begged for involvement. We adapted by switching to 20-minute Idea Break webinars to harvest information. We’re in the process of adding a simple social bookmark sharing protocol to take this to the next step. We’re slowly building a path to a successful knowledge base wiki.

There’s a reason the phrase is “willing and able”. In two of our associations we had willing volunteers but they weren’t able. It was time commitment in some cases, a knowledge level in others. We adapted by creating job descriptions that clearly identified the task and commitment, adding social media tool training via the chapter’s monthly workshops, and coaching.

Be prepared. That scouting motto is relevant here. We have a great group of volunteers behind the ISES DC social media initiative – they simply emerged. What we didn’t have was a clear social media policy. So when these volunteers emerged, we were faced with a few bumps including logo use, branding, message development. That's easily solved by creating that policy.

Focus. A very powerful 5-letters. PRSA MD had a LinkedIn Group and a Facebook Group which were languishing. Then we focused those efforts on our October conference. We expanded by adding a conference blog and a Twitter account. We gained followers, contributors and traction.

The power of celebrating cannot be overemphasized. Volunteers (particularly boards) are jazzed by success – big and small. That extra boost: Staff. I’m not saying that success can’t happen without staff, but it’s definitely easier. For volunteers and members, our associations are a small part of their lives. Their attention is naturally fractured; their priorities, elsewhere. Staff provides the thread. My role has been cheerleader, schedule keeper, help desk, navigator and R&D department.

In the final assessment, it’s not the tool, it’s whether the community is compelling. Social media tools enable conversation and relationship-building. The right tools for your community are those that make engaging easy. KiKi L’Italien and I are leading a session on the topic of engagement at ASAE & The Center’s2009 Social Media Workshop this Friday, November 6 We’ll show a couple of examples of where the community was compelled. And we’ll ask attendees to share their stories. Follow twitter #smw09 to hear more and to weigh in with yours.

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