I have a daughter who's an eye-roller. As her dad, I can make her roll her eyes with just about anything I say. She's so good at eye rolling I asked her to teach me how to do it right (seriously, I did), just so I could do it back to her on occasion. It's her physical response to me asking her a silly question. Do you know the type?
Nerdy Father: "Hey kid, I sent you a picture on Facebook. Did you see it?"
Snarky Teenage Daughter: "Dad! (insert eye rolling) I don't use Facebook that much anymore."
And here I thought Facebook was still her thing. Not that much anymore. These days it's Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. But for me, and many of the people I know, Facebook is the mainstay in social media. She still uses Facebook more than she lets on, but it's not her primary source of electronic communication with her friends.
If you're reading this you're probably a social media user. Most of the people you interact with probably use some sort of social media, even if it's simple texting. It's become a must-have in business and e-commerce depends on it. Yet many parks and recreation agencies are still lacking a social media presence (insert eye rolling). Or worse they have a Facebook page or Twitter feed but don't use them effectively if at all (eye roll again). Chances are they are either restricted by policy, have leadership that is not technically savvy, and therefore not supportive, or simply will not or cannot muster the resources (staff time and effort) to get the effort underway.
So how do agencies that have an active social media campaign make it happen, what needed to happen in order to get their social media up and running, and how have they managed to keep it going and remain relevant?
I don't think there's just one strategy that has to be used - that really depends on the agency, its leadership, and the people employed to manage social media. My guess is the way my agency developed its social media presence is different than how other community parks and recreation agencies approached the challenge. So, that said, here are six basic steps we/I experienced in going from zero to fully committed to social media.
1. Jump In
Back in 2008 no one in my family was on Facebook (which launched open registration in 2006) and no one in my agency was even hinting at jumping into the social media game. I was hearing about it more and more, but knew nothing about it. I was curious. So, I took it upon myself to learn about Facebook and that meant simply doing it. I created my own profile, experimented with adding pictures, and so on, just like most of you.
Tip: If you're not in the social media game, you might give it a try, especially if you really want to understand why so many people enjoy using it, and why so many people complain about how others use it. Become a student of social media by reading current books, blog posts, and trending articles. Social media is always changing, so staying current and paying attention will yield great dividends.
2. Someone Has to Lead the Charge
After about six months or so of using Facebook personally, I decided to establish an account for my department. It took time to get it going . . . more time than I expected. I looked for staff and customers who were on Facebook and invited them to Friend and Follow. It was very slow going. I was committed to making it work and I spent a lot of time using social media at work, but the investment needed to be made.
Tip: if you're going to jump into social media, you need to make it a priority and dedicate time to it - seriously. Nowadays most young professionals are very tech and social media savvy, so if you task one of them with getting your social media going, be sure to give them plenty of time to work on it.
3. Develop a Strategy
After a year of managing it on my own I decided to get more of my staff involved. We had already developed a user-friendly social media policy, but I wanted to make sure my staff understood what my expectations were for them. So I created a training program and guidelines. I asked my staff for volunteers, oriented them on what I knew about social media based on experience, readings, and trainings, and set about to create a social media team. We call ourselves ShMO's - Social Media Officers. Once trained we developed a schedule so ShMO's would know which days they should post content and read the newsfeed to see what our Friends/Followers were saying. I asked them to Reply, Comment and Like, and to use social media the way they would personally, all while following our ShMO guidelines. To this day I have not had one issue where staff did something on one of our social media platforms they shouldn't have.
Tip: The key to successful social media in the workplace is to have a social media management plan. Why do you want to be on social media, how will this benefit the organization, who will be involved, and what is our vision of success? Ask and answer those questions to help outline the start of a simple plan. Develop a deliberate approach to how you and your staff will maintain your social media and how they will interact with your many Friends, Fans and Followers. Prepare and train for success!
Tip: Here's a great, short video we use for staff training for social media in the workplace - check it out!
4. Be Patient
Not everyone will be on social, including staff. Some have no interest and don't see the appeal. That's OK, not everyone has to be on Facebook or know how to Tweet, Friend, Plus, Like or Pin. But it doesn't mean they can't support the effort. Like the rest of your staff you need to think about how you can educate them on the benefits of your agency having a social media presence . . . even if they never use it.
Tip: There's a great video on YouTube called The Social Media Revolution. The video makes a compelling case for businesses, like parks and recreation, to use social media. Take the time to share with them the benefits and challenges of social media. They still may want nothing to do with it, but if they know you and your team are handling it (and they don't have to be involved), they may be more than happy to say, "It’s all yours!".
5. Stay On Top of Your Agency's Social Media
You may not be posting daily or viewing the newsfeed on a regular basis, but you need to keep an eye on how your team is doing. Are they posting on the days they should, are they scanning the newsfeed to Like posts, Comment where appropriate, wish people a happy birthday or congratulate them on an achievement? Are they checking for messages and replying to comments? Social media is simply a communication tool and that means it needs to be viewed as a two-way communication tool if it is to be used effectively. If it's only used to 'push information' then why have it at all?
Tip: Schedule quarterly meetings with your team to talk about good posts, challenges, the latest changes and trends to social media, and to encourage engagement. I like to have my meeting with our pages projected on a screen so we can critique, discuss and generate ideas. It's also my chance to brag about the good efforts of staff and reinforce our team's purpose and goals.
6. Social Media is a 2-Way Street
Don't neglect the newsfeed! It's easy to share upcoming program and event information with your customers, but you also need to listen to them. Most of what you'll see may not be relevant, but now and then you'll come across a real gem of a post that could provide the perfect opportunity to share your information or even help resolve a customer's problem. We've been able to address customer concerns and questions simply by paying attention to the newsfeed - and they didn't even know we were paying attention! How could viewing your agency's Friends/Fans/Followers help you and your agency?
Tip: Each day scan the newsfeed of your agency's Friends/Followers for a few minutes and Comment and Like as appropriate. A couple of hours later do it again. At some point you'll get to some posts you recognize and you can stop and go about your other business. Repeat a few more times throughout the day. If you're using a team approach you can have each team member take a day so it's not left to one person all the time.
Social media isn't going anywhere. It might evolve, the names of the networks may change, but this form of communication is here to stay. Parks and recreation professionals will need to decide how they can use it and manage it to their advantage. It has changed how people in the 21st century communicate, so today's professionals, and their agency's, need to give serious thought to meshing social media into their communication and marketing plans. To do otherwise would be so 20th century (roll the eyes here).
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