engagement, Getting Started, reputation management

Don’t Start What You Can’t Maintain: The Back Side of Social Media

29 Comments 12 November 2009

Image courtesy of Numberstumper

Image courtesy of Numberstumper

Social media is FUN. You get to make new friends. And pass along really interesting information. You get to ask others to help you change the world and support your cause. You meet all sorts of wonderful, generous people. But what are you really doing? You are creating gathering places, living rooms for discussion, kitchens for cooking up ideas, in order to develop real stakeholders. Social media is, after all, an engagement strategy. You want to create online ties that engage, create relationships, and move people to act on behalf of a cause, company, or organization. After you spend all that time creating those relationships, you have to commit to maintaining them.

What happens when you can’t be there all the time that your stakeholders want to drop by? Or if you decide it’s just too much work to cook meals regularly for all of those guests? Maybe your organization realizes that it’s hard to maintain all those relationships, and just as difficult to post regular content.

This post is a look at the back side of starting a social media presence: the obligations of maintaining it.

It takes three to six months of work to build up an organization’s social media presence. I think it takes a minimum of three months to start seeing a return on that engagement. Don’t start if you can’t commit to maintenance. Select your platforms carefully – what do you have time to maintain, and which platforms will take more time and resources than your organization has currently? The hard truth is that you have to commit to keeping that virtual kitchen stocked with food, and the virtual living room accessible. That means keeping the blog fresh with new content, communicating regularly, creating real relationships on social networks, and offering information and conversation topics on platforms regularly.

If your company’s social sites are not tended to with care, then your organization is actually risking its online and offline credibility.

Here are some quick thoughts on the repercussions of not tending to your online presence:

1. People stop caring.

In the hyper-paced world of social media, your followers and fans quickly lose interest and forget you. Here’s the test: the last time you or your company took a break from creating regular online content (conversations, news, articles, etc), how many people asked you where you were?  There are a lot of organizations vying for time and attention online. Tend to those relationships regularly and cultivate lasting ones. The real test is creating relationships where someone writes to ask: “How are you? Haven’t seen you posting much lately.”

2. People stop spreading your news.

Viralness is a key factor in social media. If you aren’t maintaining connections, people are less likely to pass along your content. Relationships strengthens the desire to “do good” for others, whether that’s passing along content, recommending your site, or suggesting someone become of fan of your Facebook Page.

3. You lose friendship credibility.

If you’re not there for them now, will you be there later? If you post content randomly, or only sporadically engage online, how can they count on you? If you are a regular news source for information in your field, you need to continue to do that.  What if you posted content regularly, gathered a following, then stopped? When your organization decides to resume, it’s lost its credibility for being dependable, and for maintaining the site. It may very well have lost viewers it cannot ever regain.

It’s tempting to think that “no one will notice” if you are not maintaining your homes regularly, but someone always drives by. It’s also tempting to think “it’s all right if we don’t put up any new content for a month.” But someone cares, and misses it. That fan who would’ve done anything for your cause is a lot less likely to do that when they don’t know why you went away for a while…or when you are coming back.

There is a marketing credo that it is much cheaper to keep a regular customer happy than find new customers. No matter what type of organization you are, it’s easier to keep your existing following than to build a new one.

What do you think? Is your organization struggling with this very issue? How are you addressing the issues of time/maintenance/engagement?

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  • Great title by the way. Indeed to get the real returns, early commitment to ongoing maintenance is key. No less true of individuals than organizations. But it’s also important to note that ‘maintenance’ is a highly flexible concept. Note how often Ellen Degeneris tweets – because viewership is to her important and timely. In contrast, Coke probably never has nor needs to care for it’s Facebook fan group – which wasn’t even started by Coke. The point, I believe, is less that a presence needs to be maintained, rather the engagement of the readership/viewership/consumer needs to be promoted. At times, that might mean stepping out of the way and letting the fans do the fanning…. Be nice if there was an easy way to tell which way when!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Elyon – great point about the fact that the presence doesn’t need to always be maintained by the company, or nonprofit itself. Fans can be great advocates and PR people. However, it does take time to engage and grow an organic PR team – and I believe that must be the organization’s necessary commitment to social media. (I think I may have just made up the term “organic PR team,” but I like it!) Great point, too, about the different ways that companies maintain their engagement on platforms.

    [Reply]

  • Great title by the way. Indeed to get the real returns, early commitment to ongoing maintenance is key. No less true of individuals than organizations. But it’s also important to note that ‘maintenance’ is a highly flexible concept. Note how often Ellen Degeneris tweets – because viewership is to her important and timely. In contrast, Coke probably never has nor needs to care for it’s Facebook fan group – which wasn’t even started by Coke. The point, I believe, is less that a presence needs to be maintained, rather the engagement of the readership/viewership/consumer needs to be promoted. At times, that might mean stepping out of the way and letting the fans do the fanning…. Be nice if there was an easy way to tell which way when!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Elyon – great point about the fact that the presence doesn’t need to always be maintained by the company, or nonprofit itself. Fans can be great advocates and PR people. However, it does take time to engage and grow an organic PR team – and I believe that must be the organization’s necessary commitment to social media. (I think I may have just made up the term “organic PR team,” but I like it!) Great point, too, about the different ways that companies maintain their engagement on platforms.

    [Reply]

  • Great blog and info!! I find organizations, especially nonprofit, see the next great thing and jump on board. I mean, come on, how many people stood in line all those years ago for a Cabbage Patch Doll because it was ‘in’?

    Same mentality quite often in the social media realm. There is always going to be ‘the next best thing’ and organizations really need to discover their overall communication strategy that aligns with their organization…Facebook may be a fit, blogging may not be. It depends on their communication strategy, resources, demographic of ‘listener’, etc.

    Jumping in with both feet is good…however, let’s make sure there is a row boat out there that can take you the distance.

    Bev

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Bev, LOVE the Cabbage Patch Doll analogy! And the “next best thing” idea – you are so right that it’s about an entire communications strategy and not getting the new shiny toy. Take a minute, step back, and ask “do we really need this social media platform?” And if we get it, what are our obligations? So glad you stopped by to comment- and look forward to seeing you again here!

    [Reply]

  • Great blog and info!! I find organizations, especially nonprofit, see the next great thing and jump on board. I mean, come on, how many people stood in line all those years ago for a Cabbage Patch Doll because it was ‘in’?

    Same mentality quite often in the social media realm. There is always going to be ‘the next best thing’ and organizations really need to discover their overall communication strategy that aligns with their organization…Facebook may be a fit, blogging may not be. It depends on their communication strategy, resources, demographic of ‘listener’, etc.

    Jumping in with both feet is good…however, let’s make sure there is a row boat out there that can take you the distance.

    Bev

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Bev, LOVE the Cabbage Patch Doll analogy! And the “next best thing” idea – you are so right that it’s about an entire communications strategy and not getting the new shiny toy. Take a minute, step back, and ask “do we really need this social media platform?” And if we get it, what are our obligations? So glad you stopped by to comment- and look forward to seeing you again here!

    [Reply]

  • i read the post and thought to myself, wow great post.
    it is very important that people realize the amount of work that needs to go into social media and the fact that it is not a campaign but rather has to become a way of life.

    then i saw the comment

    and decided that there is a bigger picture here that i would like to address so here are my thoughts

    a brand needs to determine what the plan is to get people to care. Social media is one of the options but its is not the only one and in many cases should be integrated with other things (such as real face to face interaction – so “old world”)
    If you select social media as a key tool, then be prepared to work your @#$#$ off to make it matter. social media is not a free lunch.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Tally,
    So true about the bigger picture!
    And speaking of face to face interaction – I think that anytime you have a chance to actually meet some of the people you connect with online, it makes all the following online interactions so much stronger. There really is nothing like face to face, but our reach is obviously limited if that’s the only option. Online interactions should be treated as face to face ones, which leads me to another comment: you have to act online like you would in person. Answer questions when they are asked, respond to comments, pay attention to people. Seems like the right thing to do in person to maintain a relationship…and online, too!

    [Reply]

  • i read the post and thought to myself, wow great post.
    it is very important that people realize the amount of work that needs to go into social media and the fact that it is not a campaign but rather has to become a way of life.

    then i saw the comment

    and decided that there is a bigger picture here that i would like to address so here are my thoughts

    a brand needs to determine what the plan is to get people to care. Social media is one of the options but its is not the only one and in many cases should be integrated with other things (such as real face to face interaction – so “old world”)
    If you select social media as a key tool, then be prepared to work your @#$#$ off to make it matter. social media is not a free lunch.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Tally,
    So true about the bigger picture!
    And speaking of face to face interaction – I think that anytime you have a chance to actually meet some of the people you connect with online, it makes all the following online interactions so much stronger. There really is nothing like face to face, but our reach is obviously limited if that’s the only option. Online interactions should be treated as face to face ones, which leads me to another comment: you have to act online like you would in person. Answer questions when they are asked, respond to comments, pay attention to people. Seems like the right thing to do in person to maintain a relationship…and online, too!

    [Reply]

  • Social Media Strategist or relationship consultant .. ah yes, both. 😉

    Love this line “If you’re not there for them now, will you be there later?”

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Seth,
    Glad you enjoyed the post…and the relationship advice 🙂
    Always happy to read your comments!

    [Reply]

  • Social Media Strategist or relationship consultant .. ah yes, both. 😉

    Love this line “If you’re not there for them now, will you be there later?”

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Seth,
    Glad you enjoyed the post…and the relationship advice 🙂
    Always happy to read your comments!

    [Reply]

  • Thanks for helping people think through the full picture here of social media engagement.

    Bottom line, isn’t it about maintaining relationship? Building good relationships take time. Building repeat customers take success and time. Building good relationships and connections with members takes time, energy and patience. As nonprofits, it’s imperative that we engage our members and stakeholders. Without them, we don’t have any feet to the organization’s mission. We are just captains without a crew or ship.

    I find that nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents and membership anyway. Their lack of consistent participation It’s just a symptom of a larger issue. Wouldn’t you hate to date someone who was non-committal and you never knew if they were going to come through for you?

    Just sayin’…

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Jeff- I think you have a great point there about nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents or membership anyway. So true, and thanks for pointing that out! I hated not knowing whether or not I’d hear from my dates this week, tomorrow, next week, or whenever they felt like it. Who needs that? 🙂

    Great comment. It IS about building relationships. Period. You don’t invest in the time, the relationship will never ripen.
    Thanks so much for these words of wisdom!

    [Reply]

  • Thanks for helping people think through the full picture here of social media engagement.

    Bottom line, isn’t it about maintaining relationship? Building good relationships take time. Building repeat customers take success and time. Building good relationships and connections with members takes time, energy and patience. As nonprofits, it’s imperative that we engage our members and stakeholders. Without them, we don’t have any feet to the organization’s mission. We are just captains without a crew or ship.

    I find that nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents and membership anyway. Their lack of consistent participation It’s just a symptom of a larger issue. Wouldn’t you hate to date someone who was non-committal and you never knew if they were going to come through for you?

    Just sayin’…

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Jeff- I think you have a great point there about nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents or membership anyway. So true, and thanks for pointing that out! I hated not knowing whether or not I’d hear from my dates this week, tomorrow, next week, or whenever they felt like it. Who needs that? 🙂

    Great comment. It IS about building relationships. Period. You don’t invest in the time, the relationship will never ripen.
    Thanks so much for these words of wisdom!

    [Reply]

  • Great post Debra – it really gave me a lot to think about for the organizations I’m involved with. Jeff Hurt’s comment about “I find that nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents and membership anyway.” really rang true also.

    I loved the idea of keeping the virtual kitchen well stocked!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks, Nancy!! Glad you got something out of it for the organization with which you’re working. Appreciate you stopping by and commenting – come back anytime!

    [Reply]

  • Great post Debra – it really gave me a lot to think about for the organizations I’m involved with. Jeff Hurt’s comment about “I find that nonprofits that have difficulty with a social media presence probably have difficulty engaging their constituents and membership anyway.” really rang true also.

    I loved the idea of keeping the virtual kitchen well stocked!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks, Nancy!! Glad you got something out of it for the organization with which you’re working. Appreciate you stopping by and commenting – come back anytime!

    [Reply]

  • Simon Duncan

    Great post. Very relevant. I’m running a social media experiment for the voluntary sector which you can find here
    http://yhictchampion.wordpress.com/category/socialmediavco/ and on Twitter #socialmediavco. I’ll direct people to this article as an important part of forward planning and sustaining a social media presence.
    Simon

    [Reply]

  • Simon Duncan

    Great post. Very relevant. I’m running a social media experiment for the voluntary sector which you can find here
    http://yhictchampion.wordpress.com/category/socialmediavco/ and on Twitter #socialmediavco. I’ll direct people to this article as an important part of forward planning and sustaining a social media presence.
    Simon

    [Reply]

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  • annawoods04

    Sounds to me as if they should start over.A good company will listen to its customers.Just my personal opinion, and as for eg If the environmentalists get a product that is more earth friendly, then the company wins more customers, and those who don’t care don’t notice a difference, then very few people will be complaining.

    reputation management

    [Reply]

About

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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