The small organization’s guide to investing in social media

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Part 6 (and conclusion) of a series. Originally posted on AlexandraSamuel.com.

Small organizations -- as well as some large ones! -- typically face a limited audience size and a limited budget as they plunge into social media. The 90-9-1 rule makes it hard to build a critical mass of user participation on a site with a total audience of less than 100,000 people; working with a budget of less than $100k imposes equivalent constraints. This series has addressed the way audience and budget size constrain social media efforts, and offered two feasible options for establishing a social media presence in the face of these constraints.

In principle, either the aggregation strategy or the in-house content creation strategy can work for you as an internal (member-focussed) approach, or as an external (general public) approach. But it is absolutely crucial that you know which approach you are pursuing before you start, because that will affect either what you aggregate and how you present it, or what topics your own content covers and how you frame that.

How much money, time and effort you invest in that framing depends on your overall available resources. One of our very first Social Signal clients, Mark Surman (then of telecentre.org, now of the Mozilla Foundation) insisted that an online community project should spend twice as much on people and content as it did on software. We've relaxed that ratio to 1:1, but the point remains: if you've got $100k to spend on social media in the next year, $50k should go towards paying for the site editor or animator who will populate it with content, outreach to potential members, and get your conversation really rolling. That means you've got $50k left to cover site design, development and maintenance.

You don't want to spend that $50k on the wrong thing, but if you spend $25k on a highly customized and original web strategy, you probably won't have enough money left to build what your strategist comes up with. Better to spend $10k on a strategy for framing, launching, promoting and managing one of the basic kinds of online presences outlined here: an aggregation site, or a content site you populate yourself. You can also check out Social Signal's open-sourced Concept Jam methodology as a process for developing the framing or concept for your new presence, and take it for a spin yourself.

There is lots more to say about which social media platforms to choose, which topics to focus on and how to build audience. But the key thing to get right is to be realistic about your capacity to engage your members, and to create an online presence that will deliver value to them without imposing an undue burden on your staff or your membership to keep generating fresh content and conversation. Social media is a tremendously powerful way of deepening the public's awareness of your mission, of strengthening your connection to members, and most importantly, of strengthening the connections among your members themselves. Set yourself up for success in this new medium by focusing on where you can excel, and build from there.

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