How to Leverage Social Media: Where to Start?

\"The Conversation\" - A Social Media snapshot by Brian Solis of PR 2.0
“The Conversation Prism” – a social media snapshot by Brian Solis

Last week, crowdSPRING’s Director of Marketing Pete Burgeson spoke at a forum sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust regarding how arts organizations can use new media to help promote awareness of their initiatives. The panel also included social media expert Brian Solis, Social Media Strategist for Tribune Interactive Dan Honigman, CEO Kara Walsh, & more.

About 300 people were in attendance, and it was nice to see the Chicago arts community so eager to embrace social media tactics. However, after digesting 4 hours of information, many attendees left wondering, “What do I do next?”

Social media is particularly beneficial for arts organizations, non-profits, and small businesses because it costs relatively little money, if anything. Combined with word of mouth marketing efforts and a solid product or service, these efforts have a lasting impact and help strengthen your organization’s brand and reputation. When executed correctly, the return on investment for time spent building relationships, creating a community, and connecting with like-minded individuals can be huge. Social media can absolutely increase interest in your organization or lead to growth in sales.

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Take a look at Brian Solis’ conversation prism, and it’s easy to see how someone new to social media strategies may feel overwhelmed, even when armed with great tools and tactics. Starting your effort is half the battle, but where to begin is the true question. But don’t be discouraged – there’s nothing new or groundbreaking about social media, only the channels we are given to see what our customers / users think and to share resources with others.

I’ve narrowed down the scope of social media significantly in order to create a starting point for organizations beginning their first venture into social media. I’ve created this guide with the arts in mind, but it can definitely be applied to any organization looking to enter the realm of social media.

So, if you’re sitting there looking at Twitter and wondering what use the service could possibly have besides letting everyone know what you ate for breakfast, then read on! If you have Tweetdeck running while you’re checking Mashable and updating your Friendfeed status, then just admire the pretty colors in the Conversation Prism, move along + come back for the next post…(Don’t worry, I still love you!)

Social Media Starting Point for Creative Organizations

Before you go into a registration frenzy and sign up on all these different social networking sites, take a second to think and ask the following questions: Who do I want to talk to? What do I have to share + offer them?

What kind of insight and content can you provide to the people you are going to reach? Any type of marketing / promotion message must be equally balanced out with helpful and useful information. If you are going to promote an event at your museum, how about sharing behind-the-scenes preview photos of the event beforehand on Flickr and your blog? Or even better, how about linking to a great event at another local museum that you think your audience would enjoy?

Having a solid social media presence is about building trust with others. Be human. Even if you are acting on behalf of an organization, make sure you include a personal image rather than a logo if given the chance to provide an avatar. In our company’s case, we have a balance: a goofy photo of me wearing cyan sunglasses, along with crowdSPRING’s logo. It’s important to come up with an easily recognizable image and to remain consistent with it throughout all of your social networks.

Let’s break the diagram I’ve created down into the six easily digestible sections:

#1. Social Networks: Don’t exist on these social networking sites solely to have a profile if you aren’t going to invest time in the upkeep of your profile. If you can only handle one network at the moment, a great place to start is Facebook. Facebook gives you the ability to start a fan page, join groups to connect + interact with likeminded people, + ultimately drive more traffic to your site. Myspace is also similar as a social networking platform, but I recommend Facebook due to its steady growth in popularity over 2008.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site which allows you to connect with other professionals in similar fields and maintain contact with your business relationship. A great section on their site is LinkedIn Answers, where you can post questions on topics and receive answers from other professionals in an industry. By answering questions in your field of expertise, you can gain more exposure for your organization.

crowdSPRING on Flickr
crowdSPRING on Flickr

#2. Unique Content: Creating content that can be easily shared will help increase word of mouth marketing. Sharing and telling others is the heart of social media, and as an arts organization, there is so much unique and interesting content for you to share. Sign up for a Flickr account, and post photos of your events, staff, and more. Tag your photos extensively and accordingly so that others can search and find your images. Join groups on Flickr with similar interests, add contacts, and start speaking to them. Flickr, along with most other social networking sites, has a tool where you can see which contacts in your address book also have a Flickr account, which allows you to connect with your audience across multiple networks.

Start a YouTube channel, and post video snippets of rehearsals, event sneak peaks, “A Day in the Life” profiles of your staff, and other interesting content people will want to tell others about or subscribe to. Along the same vein, Kyte is a digital media platform that allows you to create and stream live video, which could be useful for producing webinars or streaming an exclusive event.

#3. Microblogs: Microblogging is a growing trend in new media, utilizing a quick post format, as opposed to article-length blogs. Sites like Twitter force you to keep it short by limiting your posts to 140 characters. Many businesses have been successful at using Twitter to provide customer support, expand their audience, and build relationships with others. There is a search function that is extremely useful to find other people to follow and start conversations. Another prominent microblogging platform is Tumblr. Tumblr is a blog platform made for quick posts, giving you the options to quickly embed a video, share a quote or link, post a photo or audio. It’s a very simple way to begin sharing content if the idea of having a big, formal blog is daunting.

#4. Blog: When you start your organization’s blog, throw away the typical marketing and PR hat. Nobody wants to read regurgitated press releases. A great example of a company blog that helps promote its brand is 37signals’ Signal Vs. Noise. Your blog should provide interesting content relevant to your audience. If your theater has an upcoming play, post an interview with the director. Give a behind-the-scenes video tour into rehearsals. Offer to give a pair of tickets away. Share this unique content on your blog, but make sure you put this content on the other social networks mentioned as well. Give insight into your organization, who the people involved are, talk about topics that are of interest to you. People will begin to view your blog as a resource for inspiration, education, and reliable information. Both Blogger and WordPress are useful blogging platforms. crowdSPRING uses WordPress, but explore these options, and find the right fit for you. - an event listing site – an event listing site

#5. Event Listings: Chances are that if you are working for an arts organization, there are events that you would like to promote. There are many listings sites that rely on user generated content to let their audience know about upcoming events in their area. Several prominent ones include Eventful, Going, Yelp Events, & Upcoming. These people actively seeking out events, and this is a great opportunity for you to reach an already engaged audience. Use these event sites not only to list your own events, but also to find out similar events and networking opportunities, which leads to #6 in our social media “starting point.”

#6. Offline Efforts: Yep. That good old fashioned interaction that occurs when people just talk to each other is still important and should be considered as equal as the sections listed above in your organization’s social media efforts. Use these social media tools to take your efforts offline. is a great resource to find local events to meet other people who represent similar organizations or to tap into audiences that may benefit from your organization. Twitter meetups (“Tweetups”) are also becoming more commonplace, which is a great way to meet others interested in social media from all types of industries. Attend conferences, forums, and panels. Word of mouth marketing is such a great tool. If you’re a non-profit organization or blogger with limited funds, check out the scholarships for Andy Sernovitz + Gaspedal’s Word of Mouth Marketing Crash Course, a 1 day seminar that will help you spark ideas regarding how you can get more people talking about your organization.

Hopefully, you will find this information beneficial to incorporating social media within your organization. Here are some more resources to explore, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me on Twitter – just @crowdSPRING.

Social Media Resources:
50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business (Chris Brogan)
25 Ways to Build Your Community (Chris Brogan)
Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media (Beth Kanter)
Damn, I Wish I Thought of That: Word of Mouth Marketing (Andy Sernovitz)
PR 2.0 (Brian Solis)
Social Media Club
Social Media on Alltop

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