A plan for engaging effectively in social media

This practical seven-step guide sets out a plan of how to build community membership and engage effectively in social media. The process is:

  1. Identify the audience.
  2. Identify the key themes and issues.
  3. Locate where conversations are taking place.
  4. Categorise the key influencers.
  5. Build relationships with these key players.
  6. Add value to the conversation with meaningful content and incentives.
  7. Monitor, measure, and evaluate the community to ensure goals are met.  Adjust and update plans.

Identify the audience

Begin by clearly defining the audiences that you want to reach and influence and your goals for the audience – what do you want them to do as a result of your communications? For example, attend a visit day.

Having identified the key audience(s) that you want to communicate with using social media, we need to begin to understand where, how and why these communities come together, so that we might eventually join in the conversation.

The University is seeking to engage with a number of distinct groups with different issues, who will be interacting in very different social spaces using different customs and conventions. It’s vital that we listen and learn before we begin engaging.

Becoming credible in each community will require adopting relevant content and approaches, but the method of engagement is consistent.

Identify the key themes and issues.

Before we are in a position to influence conversation we need to understand what people are talking about and what matters to them. One way to do this is by identifying key words and key themes of conversations happening in social media about the university. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Build a set of keywords to monitor using free services such as Google alerts, Hootsuite, Netvibes and Technorati and paid services, such as Radian 6 and Sprout Social if appropriate. 
  • Set up social media alerts in socialmention.com

A good starting point is generating keywords using Google’s Keyword tool. http://ow.ly/avsHK It enables us to see the most commonly searched for words and phrases.
Combining this with the content brought up in a socialmention.com search allows us to map common themes across all social media. This also allows us to see where conversations are taking place and who the key players are.
Here is a link to a University of Leicester search on socialmention.com and the image below shows how the results appear.

Social Mention

Identify where conversations featuring these themes are taking place

You will already have a good idea of the types of places where the target audience is having conversations. On the Student Room this will include Leicester Unis forum. On Twitter and Facebook track the users that are using our keywords or engaging with the site. Set up blog alerts in Technorati for blogs tagged “university leicester” and other keywords and phrases such as departments or subjects. (Note: users may be using different terms such as ”Leicester uni” , which is why it’s important to understand the keywords first). Social mention.com is a reasonable easy way to identify brand mentions across all social media. Additional analysis of the results of the socialmention.com search will provide additional insight. 

Build benchmarks for the strength, reach and sentiment of our presence. This can be done quickly in social mention but should be backed up by more detailed understanding of the sentiments of conversations on our selected themes. While the auto-generated ratings are quick, they are not a particularly accurate reflection. Manual analysis is much more effective.

Categorise Key influencers

Who are our champions? Who is answering questions on our behalf? Who has the biggest and best networks? And who is best placed to influence others?
If time allows, you can rank these people based on their influence. This will enable us to calculate reach and “opportunities to see” our messages.  The table below provides a method to score actions so we can build a profile of our Top 20 most influential people in social media.

RT's 4
Follows 1
Likes/Fan 2
Trackbacks 4
Authority 2
Tags 1
Student Room
Pos replies
Rep 1

On The Student Room credibility and influence is measured by rep (reputation). In Twitter by Klout, followers, retweets and @mentions. Who is retweeting our messages? Measure their followers to rank our most influential allies. Who regular engages with our Facebook site?  Measure their likes or friends, and Technorati ranks Bloggers with an authority ratings.

Build relationships with influencers

We do this by providing them with unique content and inside information. This bolsters their reputation with their network and peers and provides a credible source for our messages. We can also increase their reputation as a trusted source.

For example, these valuable people might be the first to receive offers to events, or perhaps certain information is released to them personally or even slightly ahead of the general public. If we have champions in forums defending or promoting our reputation, we might want to offer them the option of contacting us directly for answers to questions posed by community members

Add value with content

Content is critical to success. Whether it’s 140 characters in Twitter, a 200-word blog post, or a 5-minute film for YouTube; it matters. Our aim is to attract a community around us by offering people something original and of a quality that they will value.

Those contributing on behalf of the University can add value for people by only engaging in conversations about the areas that they are “university quality” in. All content should embody the quality of the institution and our values. This will contribute to the stature and legacy of the brand.

Creating content

The quality of the content that we create and share, and the pedigree of those creating it, provides an ideal way of reinforcing the elite aspect of our position. It also allows us to share the University’s reputation for research and teaching excellence and a first-class student experience. Content will be created by many people across the University. If you participate, please follow these guiding principles:

  • Stick to your area of expertise and provide unique, individual perspectives on what's going on at the University of Leicester and the wider world.
  • Post meaningful, respectful comments—no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.
  • Always pause and think before posting. That said, reply to comments in a timely manner, when a response is appropriate.
  • Respect official University information and content, and confidentiality.
  • When disagreeing with others' opinions, keep it appropriate and polite.
  • Know and follow the University’s policies and procedures and familiarise yourself with the official social media guidelines.

Note: There may be times when the production values of the content aren’t "university quality". The policy is that this is acceptable, when the subject itself or the content portrayed is of "university quality". For example, a low-resolution video of a press conference would be acceptable.

Publishing Content

By increasing the reach and the connectivity of our online networks we are able to carry our content and messages further, generate more impact and exert more influence. Given the number of social media channels available and the limited resources available, it may be necessary to semi-automate the publishing and distribution of content using feeds. The Marketing Communications team can set up automated feeds of contents for teams and departments. Please content Rob Harding on ext. 2160 for more information.

Monitor, measure, and evaluate the community to ensure goals are met

Communities and presences should be reviewed regularly to ensure the original communications goals are being achieved. When reviewing what people are saying about you, it may help if you label contributors into three groups: brand advocates (green); brand neutrals (amber) and brand detractors (red). This should allow you to measure progress and provide guidance on where to devote attention going forward.

Websites such as www.socialmention.com can be used, with caution, to measure social media presence, reach and sentiment Analysis can be conducted for individual campaigns or projects e.g. Literary Leicester.

Using Social Bookmarking and Social News tools for analysis and increasing reach

The key sites are:

  • http://technorati.com is the leading blog search engine and directory, Technorati.com tracks not only the authority and influence of blogs, but also the most comprehensive and current index of who and what is most popular in the Blogosphere.
  • www.delicious.com is a social booking marking service, which allows users to categorise and share interesting content they discover online.
  • www.reddit.com is a social news website. Users submit links to content on the Internet or submit "self" posts that contain original, user-submitted text. Other users may then vote the posted links "up" or "down" with the most successful links reaching the front page. Users can also comment on the posted links and reply to other commentators consequently forming an online community.
  • www.stumbleupon.com is a form of web search engine that finds and recommends web content to its users. Its features allow users to discover and rate Web pages, photos, and videos that are personalized to their tastes and interests based on their likes and interests and those of their peers.

Continue to adjust and update plans and repeat the cycle. For more information, or for other social media guides, contact the Marketing Communications team - Vic Russell on ext. 1244 (vlh14). 

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