social media strategy, technology

Mind Mapping Social Strategy and Everything Else

8 Comments 07 August 2013

I’m a big fan of using the mind mapping technique to map out a social media strategy, and until three weeks ago, I hadn’t considered using it for other applications. Now I’m a complete convert to using the mind mapping technique for all of my planning.

For me, a mind map works best when I have a single goal (on the map, I place the goal in the middle), and branch my thinking out from there. I have heard from some colleagues that mind mapping isn’t an ideal tool for free association, and I can see the validity in that because a branched mind map sorts and orders thinking. On the other hand, I find that having the center goal frees up my mind to think, albeit linearly.

In the case of a strategy, I begin by centering on a primary strategy goal (be it increased engagement, or growing an activist list, for example) and use that to literally and figuratively center the mind map. From there, I consider how each social channel could be used to meet that goal. Campaigns are mapped out on a separate mind map, for they have a different goal than an overall strategy. Below is a partial mind map I drafted a few years ago with a client as we were thinking about how to create a real community of engaged mothers around (who might also buy a type of book). You’ll see that I placed the goals in the middle, and then thought about how each channel could support that goal. In a mind map, I also literally connect some ideas and channels with arrows.

Book mindmap partial screen shot

What I love about working with mind maps is that they enable my brain to sketch out possibilities, connect the dots between ideas, and endlessly branch. In fact, these mind maps often lead me to drafting a strategy mind map that is too ambitious for execution. For my purposes, that is just fine, because when I review the mind map with the client, we can talk through the ambitious implementation plan as a totality and then whittle down and prioritize the map in real-time during discussion.

Two weeks ago, I sat in front of a notepad, pen in hand, trying to wrap my head around all the content and ideas I’d wish to share in a three-hour leadership workshop. The workshop is for the Meals on Wheels annual conference, and it is about becoming a networked nonprofit offline, including a community mapping exercise. I could not, for the life of me, get a grasp on all of the different ways I could choose to facilitate the workshop or order the content I wanted to present. Then it occurred to me: MIND MAP. Any why not?

Two hours later, I had a working map of how I’d like to present the workshop, the session flow, and objectives for each section laid out clearly. Best of all, I could discuss the map with my conference liaison and receive her feedback before developing a full slide deck and accompanying exercises. I am now a convert to using mind maps for every aspect of client work and presentations.
This is an example of one section of the workshop, with objective and activities laid out. (Primary credit due to The Networked Nonprofit for inspiring this section of the workshop.)

Becoming a Net Non mind map hour one

Mind mapping software

I asked colleagues to recommend mind mapping software that they use and love, and mind map resources. I heard “pen and paper” a lot! Colleague Kivi Leroux Miller said: “Mind map all the time, but find the flow so much better with pen and paper. Sometimes I will put the finished map online as a clean up exercise.”

Colleague Kerri Karvetski painted a wall of her office with Idea Paint, so she has a blank wall ready to jot down ideas.

Several people mentioned how much they love using the MindNode (app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad), including colleagues Rachel Weidinger and Debbie Ferrari. Rachel’s company, Upwell, created this mind map using MindNode to create a map of terms used by ocean acidification stakeholders, the predecessor to our massive conversation monitoring keyword sets.

Ocean Acidification keywords

Ocean Acidification keywords

A few others recommended FreeMind, which is an open source platform written in Java that runs on all platforms.

Personally, I use MindMeister to create my mind maps, but after looking into MindNode, I am tempted to use it as well. MindMeister is great for collaborative and real-time collaborative mind mapping and sharing maps online, and maps can be saved to Google Drive. MindNode, as an app, isn’t set up for that, but it sure has a great UX.

To select the software that works best for your needs, Information Tamers compiled a well-organized wiki outlining the different mind mapping software options that could fit specific mind mapping uses. Educators Technology lists three mind map tools to create and save mind maps right in your Google Drive.  As another resource, Lifehacker recently polled its users about their preferred mind mapping software, and features the best five mind mapping tools.

A few other great resources for thinking about mind mapping

There are a lot of resources for thinking about mind mapping as data visualization. I enjoyed this post by Beth Kanter about how to get insight from data visualization in its totality. She also wrote about facilitation with sticky notes (related to mind mapping) and pointed to a Kindle-only read, Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It (TM) Notes, which I devoured in about one hour. The inventor of mind mapping, Tony Buzan, has his own website and blog, worth checking out whether you are a beginner or advanced mind mapper. Finally, there are a LOT of mind map boards and pins on Pinterest. Using this query, I found a lot of boards on mind mapping practices, software, and examples. That’s where I found this gem; a basic rule-of-thumb for mind mapping:

mind mapping rules

What’s your mind mapping practice?

  • gmart

    Great post. I love mind mapping for all sorts of creative thought applications. I like MindMeister for the ability to share maps with others and to be able to collaborate on them.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Love MindMeister as well, and have used it for collaboration as well. I do feel that the maps it generates aren’t as visually beautiful as MindNode’s but I’ve been really happy with the tool.

    Do you think mind maps are limiting in any way for ideation?


  • Brian

    Enjoyed that read. I’m a huge mind mapping fan. I use it for note taking, brainstorming and organizing my tasks for the week ahead. Personally i also use mind mapping software for this. Ive settled on MindGenius as it seems the most powerful


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Brian, thanks for sharing the tool you use. Do you use mind mapping as you’re taking notes, or to arrange your notes?


  • Gerome Klaus

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m teacher and to get kids’ attention I use pictures in my presentations (mind maps mostly). I like to convert stories and books and add pictures to every topic and dialogue.
    I create my presentations in mind map program (for example I use Conceptdraw MindMap and then show it to kids as presentation.
    Powerful, easy and very intuitive eLearning tool.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Gerome – love the idea of using it to convert stories and books into visual tools for kids. I could definitely see my kids enjoying that!


  • melindalewis

    Thank you for the examples and for the tools! I am a pen and paper person myself, here, but I will check these tools out–I love what you created.


  • Pingback: How to create a social media strategy that actually gets read | London Online Marketing Agency()


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.

Follow Debra

Subscribe via email




© 2020 Social Media Strategy for Mission-Driven Organizations.

Site by Arrow Root Media