social media strategy

What You Want from Social Media Depends on Time

16 Comments 11 March 2009

image by ali edwards

image by ali edwards

Social media strategies take time, committed personnel and commitment. But how much time is needed? How much commitment? I’ve been thinking about how much time the staff-limited, time-limited non-profit (and what non-profit isn’t?) needs to administer a social media strategy.  Many non-profits will shy away from it entirely based on the sheer amount of work hours needed to commit without solid return on investment metrics. Below, two new frameworks address the fear of the time drain directly. They illustrate the average time your organization will spend on its social media activities. If you believe that this is still too much time, I offer a few options at the end of this post.

Put another way:

Don’t let the fear of time commitment stop your organization from its strategic thinking. Develop a social media strategy. Select the appropriate tools to use. The charts below should answer the question of how much time it will take.

Two brilliant posts have inspired this thinking:

1. Beth Kanter’s blog post entitled “How Much Time Does It Take To Do Social Media?” She asserts the following framework:

2. Nina Simon’s blog post for Museum 2.0 entitled “How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?” She asserts the following framework:

from How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take? by Museum 2.0

from How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take? by Museum 2.0

Both assert that your time spent on social media increases as  your participation increases. Museum 2.0 frames the continuum as moving from participant to content provider to community director. Or, in Beth Kanter’s words, moving from Participant/Listener to Sharing Your Story/Creating Buzz to Community Building/Networking. They are both right.

Ultimately, how much time you put into your social media strategy will depend on what you want out of it.

If your strategy will take too much time from your staff, think about your options.  Some options for limiting that time are:

1. Reconsider whether your organization can create a different, less-time consuming initial strategy. Start with a smaller goal and figure out the payback for your organization. Look at the overall strategy as a long-term goal that you may be able to implement in steps, or after you have hired more staff.

2. Can you separate or spread social media roles among staff? Does it make sense for the fundraiser/development officer to do some of the work, a program officer to work on another, and the administrative assistant to do another task?

3. Can you subcontract some of it out? There are great consultants and independent contractors out there in the social media field. They do everything from respond to chatter about the organization online to writing blog/website content to managing online community forums.

4. Can you get an intern? College (and high school) students may have the abilities needed to complete part of your strategy. They can create and maintain social network profiles, update them, listen to online chatter about the organization, create and feed content, and more.  But BEWARE: interns leave, and their information leaves with them. This is not a permanent solution to your financial/time crunch, but rather a stop-gap measure.

Once you have invested the initial time into a social media platform, it is often less time to maintain it, especially if your strategy does not involve community building and networking. For example, once you have built a community or following, it is much less work to maintain it. Another example: once you have a focused blog purpose, creating the blog posts are simple and much less time-consuming.

So go for it! Figure out your organization’s best possible uses of social media. Then, answer the question “do I have the time to do it?” If you don’t, that’s perfectly ok. Can you retool the strategy initially? Is there another way to divide the work? Is there another strategy we can implement while we work towards our ultimate social media strategy? But most importantly, now you know what it takes to get there. Go for it!



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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