I was chatting this morning with the head of a private school about its struggles with when and how to use social media, both in how it communicates with families and how it markets itself to new potential families.
The stakes are high. Families sending their kids to a private school have a powerful sense of ownership over what happens, and a huge expectations for the school’s success at delivering education to their kids. But if I recall my own education, not every interaction with the education “product” is perfect and smooth — these are kids growing up after all, and parents are always learning to be parents (and some of us never learn, really). More, from what I’ve seen, there’s always have a segment of their stakeholders demanding that the school push into new media, and an even bigger segment that squawks at every change.
The head of the school noted that most ‘school blogs’ he’s seen are statements from the head of the school, which just doesn’t seem right. Video seems like a huge opportunity, but what level of quality will be required–and how much will that cost? And he’s seen school Facebook pages that turn into quasi-public forums for parents to air grievances. The pall hanging over it all: we already have too much to do and no budget to put into it — how do we add social media?
His concerns are shared by businesses: They always seem to come down to the question of “How do I add social media when I don’t have the staff and I don’t have the budget.”
My answer is to shift perspective: You’re not adding — you’re changing focus. The communications environment requires a new way of looking at how you reach and influence the people you want to reach, and every tool you use or consider has to be evaluated against this backdrop.
Herewith, my view of the communications backdrop, and its implications for organizations seeking to recast how they engage with their stakeholders.
1. People want what they want, when they want it. You’re website must serve the core information needs of a wide range of constituents, 24-hours a day. Most organizations have handled this one. But it also means that people want your online presence to feel dynamic and meaningful — always up-to-date, up-to-the-minute.
Implications: Make sure your site is meeting core stakeholder interests. Add features that increase your site’s relevance and immediacy, including homepage news updates and a blog.
2. People want you to reach them any way they want. They want print, they want email, they want RSS, they want mobile alerts, they want Twitter, they want Facebook. They want alerts one way, and perspectives another way. They want pictures and videos. Moreover, they want you to do it smart — and “smart” means different things to different people.
Implications: Understand and segment your stakeholders. What are you goals for them? How do you communicate with them today? Is it working? How are they interacting with you and your communications? Are you meeting their expectations? Exceeding them? From a media standpoint, emphasize flexibility — can your newsletter be formatted for ease of use via email, web and print? Can you automate alerts? Would print on demand meet needs and save cost?
3. People like to share. It happens by phone, email, social networks and even (gasp!) in person. Electronic communication speeds messages and encourages sharing. Sometimes it’s conversation; sometimes it’s just spreading news.
Implications: Make your messages easy to share. Consider posting to networks like YouTube and Flickr. Implement blogs that include sharing and RSS feeds. Most of all — encourage people to share with “share this” links and remind them that the more people who know about this, the better.
4. People want to be a part of something. Ease of access by email, web and social network has broken down organizational barriers, creating a population that wants a more intimate, knowing relationship with organizations and brands. Before, you’d gain that by meeting people in person; now there’s a population wants to get that feeling online, too.
Implications: Create opportunities for people to be part of a conversation. Open doors through blogs, video, audio and pictures that give people an ‘inside view’ of what you do as an organization. Give up a little control to gain an active role in guiding conversations that bring people closer to your organization. Most of all, use tools like blogs and social networks to give other people a chance to make your story their story… to create, in their own words, in their own way.
And if you’re still trying to figure all of this out for your organization, get help!