How a small organization can build a content-driven social media presence

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Part 5 in a series. Originally appeared on AlexandraSamuel.com.

Organizations with a limited audience (fewer than 100,000 people) or limited budget (less than $100k) face equally limited possibilities for eliciting user-generated content.  One strategy for developing an effective social media presence within these limitations is to create a site driven by RSS aggregation.

Another option is focus on developing your own content on a regular (ideally daily) basis; for a small membership organization, 2-3 posts per week is entirely reasonable. To make this content generation strategy work you need:

  1. A platform for posting content. This could be your own blog or web site (I'd recommend WordPress for a blog or an easy, scaleable web site) or it could be a 3rd party platform like Facebook or a LinkedIn group.
  2. A human being whom you pay to post content. This can be a new part-time staff person, a small army of contributors paid on a per-post basis, or a current staff member who is relieved of a significant, structural part of their work in order to make time for blogging. I emphasize the idea of relieving some of their current workload because I have seen lots and lots of communications professionals who are tasked with blogging, but unless you take something major off of their plate, you can't fit blogging on. But this could be the opportunity to revisit the value of that monthly print newsletter you've been cranking out, or those press releases you always write: a blog could be more useful than either.
  3. A focus and structure for your blog or presence. Your blog is much more likely to be good, readable and well-maintained if you give it a notional focus that is a bit sharper than "our organizational voice". Is there a topic that your organization would like to be the expert on? A subject or conversation that you can host for your members? A particular shtick that you can replay on a regular basis: for example, maybe your blog is simply an ongoing series of text and video interviews with individual members who talk about their work. Even if your blog is a bit more eclectic that that, you'll find it useful to develop a repertoire of recurring structural tropes: for example, a weekly "3 sites we like this week" feature, or a "How-to with our expert" feature. And don't think you're off the hook if you're focusing on Twitter: if your social media outreach consists of 140-character messages, it's even more important to have a consistent focus and voice, so people know why to follow you.
  4. A topic file and set of evergreen stories. Before you launch your blog or social media presence, compile a list of 10-20 story ideas or conversation topics -- just jot down a title and a few words that summarize each idea. That gives other staff members a chance to weigh in on some sample blog posts and story ideas, before they see them live on the site. And having both some topics and some evergreen stories on file means that if you lack time or inspiration to write a new post, you'll have something to run.
  5. A social media monitoring system. There are lots of expensive options for monitoring stories in your field and for keeping on top of what people are saying about you, but all you really need is iGoogle or Google Reader or perhaps both. Use one of these tools to subscribe to RSS feeds from a variety of news sources (like keyword searches on Google News and Google Blog Search), and to subscribe to any major blogs in your field; that will give you a sense of breaking stories and ensure you always have lots of interesting blog posts or sites to write about or respond to. You should also set up searches related to your own nonprofit and blog URL so that you know if people respond to or comment on what you're doing.

A content generation strategy can be a great choice for a small organization that creates a lot of content, generates research or has significant expertise; all of these make it likely that you can shape or repurpose parts of your existing work for an online audience. But don't think that a strong base of content is a substitute for an employee specifically tasked with posting to your blog (as per point 2, above): you still need someone doing the day-to-day work of interviewing in-house experts, distilling white papers or editing press releases for use as readable blog posts. And most importantly, you need a human being who can build your audience by responding to comments, posting comments on other blogs, and tweeting your latest posts.

The decision to pursue either a content generation or an aggregation-driven approach should be grounded in a realistic assessment of your needs and resources. The next and final part of this series will offer some suggestions on how to plot the best course for your small organization.

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