Stumbling Through Social Media Planning for Government and Nonprofits

by admin on April 18, 2011


I  presented at a conference last year and I stated that social media planning  for governments and nonprofits had its limits. The term “plan” (in the way the advertising community uses it) may not apply to our circumstances.  I suggested that the process of creating a well defined road-map may hamper our ability to serve and grow.

Every person in the packed room looked at me as if I had suddenly grown horns.  The person who introduced me strongly objected to my observations when the presentation was complete.

So what do we mean by a plan?

Many social media and public relations experts will tell you that you have to create a plan for your government social media outreach. Inherent in the term “plan” is an assumption that you know who your audience is and you have a pretty good idea as to how to reach them.

I worked with one of the largest advertising agencies in the world when they undertook a national anti-crime campaign funded by the Department of Justice. My job was to provide crime-related research and statistics. In return, they offered to teach everything I wanted to know about running a national advertising campaign.

I asked about the “plan.”  They laughed. “You have a plan when you buy ads” they said. “If you’re not buying ads, you don’t have a plan; you have a series of aspirations.”

They were asking media outlets throughout the nation to run the ads for free. They did their research and created great material based on data, so there was a “plan.”  But without the ability to buy uniquely targeted ads to key demographics and to hit them three times during a specific time period, the plan came down to a series of hopes and dreams.

Their point was that there are endless strategies that apply when you purchase ads. You do your focus groups and survey research and you discover your probable audience and you purchase ads based on the demographics. The print and billboard and radio and television outlets reaching your demographics were your target outlets for ad purchases. You measured your results as to impact and public perception. You redo everything if the first round did not work.

That’s a plan.

In government and nonprofits, it’s called a ?????

In government-nonprofit social media, especially when you do not have an advertising budget, the concept of a “plan” is a bit of a stretch.

You are on a path of discovery more  than a plan.  You can define your target audience but you have little control in reaching them.

No one is suggesting that you don’t discuss who is important to you and ways of reaching them.  If your target audience is Polish-Americans, there are endless possibilities and every effort should be made to construct a series of social media engagements designed for them.

But all are very labor intensive and the last time I looked, the staffs of most government and nonprofit agencies are quite small.

An advertising agency would engage in survey and focus group research and buy and measure the appropriate media.

So what does this mean for us?

It means that we are free to experiment; we are free to be creative. We try various formats for audio and video. We see if StumbleUpon works better than YouTube. We play with Facebook formats. We experiment with blogs, the length of the posts and the frequency of posting. We might even turn to an aggressive e-mail campaign.

The bottom-line is that we don’t plan so much as we stumble through a process of social media self examination until the numbers and comments tell us that we are doing it right.

So for your audience, five minute videos on YouTube three times a week backed up by an aggressive e-mail campaign with a great website carrying an audio message of the day plus crowd-sourcing policy drives in the highest numbers of page views and comments.

My hunch that your “plan” didn’t lead you to your winning combination; it was a lot of creativity and trial and error.

So we can plan to our hearts content and present our findings to senior staff.  Just be fair to all by limiting expiations as to what’s possible when you have no money to buy ads.

Your critical opinions welcomed.

Best, Len.


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