collaboration, Getting Started, social media strategy

Why You Can’t Think About Social Media In A Vacuum

14 Comments 20 July 2010

image courtesy of Dunechaser

Social media strategy and practice is so much richer when ideas are shared and commented upon. Beth Kanter famously sets up wikis to share and gather knowledge for almost all of her projects, and uses her official Facebook Page to source ideas and get feedback. Linkedin groups emphasize knowledge-sharing. Brands have marketing and project management teams that collectively think about their social media. We are all trying out social media in new ways, while dealing with a geometrically increasing amount of data and information, and staying on top of ever-evolving platforms and new channels.

We all need a social media support team.

Last week, I had the privilege of working with a nonprofit team to brainstorm for two days about their social media. Not only was it fun, but what came out of the two days was so much better than I could have developed on my own! I developed a draft strategy to present to the team. Using the strategy as a starting point, we created a much better social strategy together that what we began with. Why? Group dynamics, internal organizational knowledge, individual capabilities and strengths, and group energy. We were able to access the resources and knowledge within the group members. We all think differently. Most importantly, we all respect each other.

Even if you are the only person at your organization working on social media, you can still create an external informal (or formal) social media advisory team.

I have an informal team that I call upon to help me think through ideas. My team is both long-distance and local. My “team” includes a web developer, a PR professional, a marketing VP of a brand, an SEO expert, a fundraising expert, and a local social media implementer. I call upon them individually, as I see the need for their individual expertise, to bounce ideas off of them. I skype and share documents with another nonprofit social media consultant for feedback. Most importantly, there’s a strong element of trust – I trust that my teammates are unselfishly providing their best advice, and I in turn am ready to offer it to each of them at all times.

I think the ideal team would include these knowledge proficiencies:

  • social media strategy
  • social media implementation
  • website design and programming
  • Facebook development
  • SEO expertise
  • fundraising expertise
  • marketing experience (corporate or nonprofit)
  • other tech capacities as needed: software development, database development, etc.

I use Linkedin Groups (especially the Nonprofit Professionals Forum and Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations) to ask for help, ideas, and feedback as necessary. Twitter is also a great place to ask for feedback and input, as well. I blog at Idealware, and we created a private blogger’s group to discuss blog post ideas. I also use the Community Organizer 2.0 blog as a channel for ideas and feedback.

Most importantly, my clients are also part of my team. I’m not a “guru” that goes off and works on the mountain. I start with a concept, pass it through the client for feedback, develop it further, pass it back through the client for feedback, and so forth. Ideally, I would facilitate a brainstorming session like the one described above, which greatly enhances any idea. In other words, clients are important members of any social media team.

I can’t create social media strategy in a vacuum and neither should you.

Social media is about connection. The core of it is about connecting ideas, people and places, and organizations to actions. There are so many ways to create your social media team, and so may different types of teams. When you develop social media in a vacuum, the ideas are just half-finished.

Who is on your team?

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  • ahein

    How do you make sure that your team isn't stealing your clients? How does that factor into the business strategy?


  • Hi Avi – I trust all the members of my team. I really would think poorly of anyone that I went to for advice who then went to take a client from me – that's just poor etiquette.I also know that, though some of us do compete for the same clients, we offer very different strengths so it's up to the client to choose who is the best fit for the organization. Additionally, the expertise and advice is more than worth it. I really feel like I'm getting the best support possible. However, in the end, it comes down to trust: who do I feel most comfortable working with and want to work with.


  • Really thought provoking post. Most of the ideas / questions you've put forward are questions that I ask myself. I really like the idea of a social media advisory team made up of different people. Right now I run the 'social media marketing' side but the people I ask to help out range from Product Management, Engineers, Software Developers, Communication Manager, Designers etc to get the most knowledge working together. I love the idea of a social media support team, really great idea.

    “Social media is about connection. The core of it is about connecting ideas, people and places, and organizations to actions.” – Great quote!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Robyn,
    So glad this is of use at the right time. Seems to me that you have a great team that you’ve put together, too. I think that the “team” can function in many different ways and look differently to each person: formal, informal, convening as a group or speaking to your team members individually as needs arise.


  • Interesting post, Debra. Couple of comments [cuz as @johnhaydon will tell you, i always have an opinion :-)]

    I don't think any good marketing can be done unilaterally, social or otherwise. As you mention, social media by its definition requires you to be social or it's just not going to do anything for you. And I believe that anyone open to sharing will get more back than they gave. There is a fear that sharing may lead to someone stealing something — whether leads, customers or a cool idea for a promotion. But someone can only get away with that a short time before the word gets out.

    Interestingly, I think a challenge for some nonprofits is developing a cohesive *internal* team and getting everyone moving together. Many social media folks are used to reaching out to folks they follow or have regular conversations with but then have challenges internally because they're all moving in different directions. There's an odd independence that makes folks feel that they need to “do it alone.”

    Plus, getting everyone moving in the same direction is like watching one of those liquid drops floating in space. It looks spastic and awkward, but there can be a direction there.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Jeff-
    Yep- the fear that sharing may lead to stealing ideas or clients is pervasive and somewhat natural since we live in a competitive society, as a whole. I agree with your analysis completely that someone can only get away with that for a short time before the word gets out. And, as I wrote in another comment, trusting others who you can turn turn is important as well.

    You bring up such a fabulous point about cohesive internal teams. When I wrote the post, I was thinking more of the nonprofit that has one person who is “the social media person” and how he/she can find support externally. (Also, even if it’s just one person, I think that there is often the issue that not everyone supports the social media person so there may not be many people one can recruit to the team.) But your point about developing an internal team is so important – and is a challenge.

    Have you seen this challenge personally where you’ve worked and how have you most successfully managed to get everyone moving in the same direction, if only spastically?


  • Hi Jeff – When I wrote this post, I was thinking about the one social media person at the organization who is going it alone and needs to extend beyond the organization for support.

    However, I'm so glad that you brought up the issue of the internal team challenge because I've seen it in several ways: problems gathering an internal team, problems getting the internal team to move in the same direction, and problems because they can't gather an internal support team. (Maybe this is food for another blog post?) Have you experienced any of these – and if so, do you have creative suggestions that might help others?

    One other thought – you really hit it on the head about the fear of someone stealing something. It does paralyze some and prevent collaboration. I think your answer is right on, and I'd only add that this is why I believe that trust in your “team” is so important.


  • Hi Robyn – thanks so much. Glad the post came along when you were thinking about these things. Sounds like you have an awesome team to help you think things through!


  • jwiedner

    At my previous gig, getting internal support was a problem, but I thought it was also a great opportunity, too. We had just started using social media and no one saw value to it. So ironically, that left the door open to experimenting. Getting the job no one's paying attention to or the one no one wants is actually a blessing. It offers the greatest flexibility since often folks have no interest in it and don't monitor it. That allows you to get really creative in your approach and experiment. Nothing worse, IMO, than trying to experiment when everyone's watching or when you have to define an ROI for each action you take.

    I spent a lot of time initially working on getting people to think about social media. I'd solicit people for ideas or if folks were looking to send an email, I'd suggest posting on social media instead. Soon people were starting to get the idea and began asking to post stuff. Soon it became the reverse challenge — everyone wanted to post something and it was overwhelming to our community. It went from a conversation to broadcast medium. Luckily, I'm a bit of a data geek, so I spent time watching analytics trends and was able to show the trends, what was of interest and what we should limit.

    So, I guess my short[er] answer is: if you don't have internal support, do it anyway, experiment like crazy and monitor your efforts. You'll find out what's working and be able to justify it. But persistence and passion are key — I think that's key even if you're just doing it for yourself.


  • Jeff – in a nutshell, your experience mimics the experience we all have of trying out social media to see what works, and working within community to use it successfully. Great story. Thanks so much for coming back and sharing!


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  • Christina Johns

    Just a great post Debra! I’ve often thought about this in terms of mentorship. There are so many young people either fresh out of college or volunteering in positions involving social media and having a mentor or a go to support group of fellow social media professionals has been essential for development and growth – at least I know it has in my case. Florance Broder who tweets for the Jewish Agency for Israel (where we first connected), has been not only an amazing resource for brainstorming but also now a great friend – who like you mention in your post, I trust completely. I think these relationships are unique and vital in their importance – plus you never get short of ideas that’s for sure!


    Florence Broder Reply:

    From the very first tweet, Christina and I have been colleagues, mentors, and friends. She has indeed provided an additional dimension to my work. We have the best brainstorming sessions! It’s been really hard to work without having her in the same time zone. I am completely honored to have her to call upon for all my social media needs!



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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