In Part I, we discussed how balancing the time demands of work and creating engagement via social media for a volunteer professional association seems inevitably to lead to the inadvertent neglect of the association. In Part II, we discussed the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of multiple target audiences as a means of shaping your choice of messages and social media platforms. In Part III, we talked about taking stock of your existing content so as not to exhaust your limited time for original content creation.

An individual who keeps a blog or uses Twitter can do well enough without a marketing plan, but a professional organization cannot. Without a plan, it’s difficult to marshal a team of volunteers in any effective way toward a goal.

There’s nothing wrong with not having a goal if you enjoy wasting time, or if your only goal is an extremely low bar like “we’d like to show that we are minimally present on social media platforms.” But most organizations have greater aspirations. They want to get press coverage, they want to increase the number of members, they want to create a better community for and deliver value to their current members. To make strides toward these goals, it’s important to have a plan.

Anatomy of a Marketing Plan

The marketing plan need not be complex. A one-page overview will suffice so long as it includes a few essential elements:

  • A rationale explaining the opportunity for using social media to promote the interests of the organization
  • A diagram or description aligning the organization’s strategic goals with social media activities
  • An inventory of the channels to be used
  • An inventory of content sources
  • A description of analytics tools that will measure progress
  • A project plan identifying times for reviewing results and re-aligning with the plan

The final bullet points are crucial. Measurement is the only way to tell if you’re moving toward your goals and regular opportunities to review results and re-align efforts to the current or a new set of goals will make a huge difference. Your ability to execute a successful social media strategy is based firmly in the concept of the OODA loop.

For example, if one organizational goal (a common one) is to build more memberships, how would that goal relate to social media activities? If you’ve already done your homework about your target audiences, you’ll know what these targeted groups or tribes find interesting and what social media tools they like to use regularly. Armed with this knowledge and your goal, you know that you need to get them to trust you enough as someone who comprehends their needs to click on a link sending them to your website, where, presumably, they can become a paid member.

Easier said than done, right?

The plan makes a few assumptions. Trust is not a “one and done” event. It’s a process that occurs over time in asynchronous, non-sequential steps. The Harvard Business Review talks about this process as the demise of the traditional sales funnel, wherein customers move in and out of the awareness and consideration phases in more of a swirling or spiral motion than a clear progression toward the sale.

In this context, the steps we might measure toward the goal of growing memberships might look something like this:

How growing trust can be measured over time.

As you may note from the diagram, most social media efforts that get measured tend to fall toward the top of the funnel at the Aware stage. These are clickstream analytics that are relatively easy to get at but which tell you little more than the fact that people are aware you exist.

Getting meaningful information about who is Engaged with your brand is a tougher data set to get information about and is frequently a manual process. Few professional organizations can afford a high end social media monitoring tool. If they can, then an approximation of sentiment (who likes, hates, or is neutral about your brand) is considerably easier to access. However, in most cases a few minutes each week and an Excel spreadsheet is a low tech way to start tracking engagement metrics that identify who is most likely to echo, amplify and interact with your brand messages for the organization.

The key to making the leap between awareness and engagement is the ability of the organization to be relevant and interesting to the target audience. Generally speaking, engagement has to happen before a professional organization can get its target user audience to consider the purchase of a membership. Otherwise, any assertion about the value of joining your organization falls flat without sending the critical signals that you understand, share and contribute to the audience you’re trying to reach.

The final step, getting someone to see enough value to buy a membership and join your organization, is usually the easiest step in the value chain to track. Your website’s e-commerce system should be able to provide detailed reports about who has joined and the monetary value of that conversion.

If you’re just getting started and are looking for some free (or nearly free) social media monitoring solutions, here are some options:

  • HootSuite (a dashboard for scheduling posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as analytics tracking)
  • Technorati (for tracking blog mentions)
  • Quantcast (for understanding demographics about your website visitors as well as traffic of competitors)
  • Klout (for tracking influencers and other key statistics about your Twitter usage)
  • Facebook Analytics (built into Facebook pages with more than 30 likes)
  • Google Alerts (a way to monitor brand mentions and get results via email or your Google Reader)

One thing to keep in mind is that your social media program may be the Coolest Thing Ever, but if you are pointing potential new members to a website that doesn’t show a clear way to pay for a membership, your program will fail. As I’ve said previously, a social media plan cannot operate in a silo but needs to be integrated with the strategy and mission of your company, your marketing, and, in this case, your technology. Is your website usable? Have you tracked whether there is a high abandonment rate of your shopping cart?

I’d love to hear your stories and experiences in promoting your professional association. Please add your thoughts, ideas and questions to the comments.