Do you ever worry that you might you be tweeting and blogging into empty space? Are you sure that the time you invest in social media is well spent or do you have a nagging suspicion that nobody is listening? Most academics use social media without any clear plan - they're just putting out material and hoping for the best. But if you really want to harness the power of social media to generate impact from your research, you need a plan. It doesn't take long to think strategically about your use of social media, but when you do, you'll discover that your time on social media has never been better spent.
I've blogged before about how to use Twitter to generate interest in and impact from your research. But with a clear plan of who you’re trying to reach and why, you can take your use of social media to a completely new level. If you can answer these seven questions, you'll have your very own social media strategy.
You don't have to write it down (although if you do fancy giving that a whirl, we've made it easy with this handout from our social media training session). Just keep the answers to these questions in mind before you tweet, blog or do anything else, and you'll make every minute you spend on social media count towards making an impact.
What do you want to achieve through social media? Come up with a few SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) and think about how these objectives might support your organisation’s mission, and crucially therefore how your organisation can support you in achieving your goals on social media.
Who are you trying to reach through social media and what are they interested in? Start by asking yourself who is likely to be interested in your research and who might use it? What aspects of your research are they most likely to be interested in, and how might they use your findings? Think of as many different groups or types of people and organisations as you can, and consider if they will be interested in different aspects of your work. Use this to come up with a few different key messages from your work that these different audiences might be interested in.
How can you easily find relevant content? To make life easier and keep a steady flow of material on your key messages, have a look at what you and your colleagues are already doing with traditional and other forms of digital media. Identify content that can be repurposed, remixed, or recycled for your social media strategy. Did you just integrate your findings into a conference talk or lecture? Can you put the slides online (e.g. via SlideShare)? Can you turn your speech notes or the class handout into a blog? Can you repurpose material for use on multiple networks, for example posting longer versions of key tweets as Facebook and LinkedIn posts? Bear in mind that there are different styles, conventions and types of content suited to different networks. Something with a slightly more personal edge might work well on Facebook, but everything needs to be strictly professional on LinkedIn. Pinterest and Instagram will need a powerful image (and this is also a major bonus for the Google+ interface).
Who can you work with to make your use of social media more efficient and effective? Most academics are 'mavens' - ideas people. This is handy for generating new content, but the problem is that far fewer academics are effective 'salespeople'. You may have the ideas, but you may not have the words that will get your ideas to resonate with a wide audience. But there may be someone in your team or your social network who has that knack, and if they do, then you need to try and tap into that. Send them your findings and ask them to tweet it or blog about it for you, and then learn from and paraphrase the messages that gain most traction in your own messaging. There is one other type of person who can be very handy to have in your team or network if you want to get your message out far and wide - especially if you want to get your messages out to quite diverse audiences that wouldn't normally interact with each other much. 'Connectors' always know someone who can help, and if they don't know directly they'll know someone you can ask. They often 'bridge' disparate social networks with contacts and followers from many different walks of life. In the world of social media these people often have large followings and can be influential in getting your messages heard. Start by getting to know them a bit - follow their work and interact with them if you can. Then ask them directly if they can disseminate or re-post your material (e.g. retweet, like, blog about or give you a guest blog). If they don't respond via social media, find an email address for them, and if that doesn't work, pick up the phone. Although people are sometimes a bit surprised, I've never had anyone refuse when I've done this (as an aside, I just hired a communications manager who it turns out I called years ago to retweet something because her Twitter feed was so influential - its a small, connected world). So find the mavens, connectors and salespeople in your team and network (and those who are all three) and work out how you can work together more effectively.
How can you make your content actionable, shareable and rewarding for those who interact with you? What do you want to get people who engage with your social media messages to do? What do you want them to share and what might make it attractive for them to share this? What will they gain personally from doing what you’re asking them to do and sharing your message?
How can you monitor and evaluate your social media plan? What metrics will you use to assess whether you are being successful or not? Do you want to measure this entirely in terms of interaction or can you also look at ways in which your engagement with social media is leading to measurable impacts on society (see my recent blog on how to write a winning research impact case study for some ideas about how you might do this)? How will you use this data to improve your practice? Is there a small element of your plan that you can pilot with a particular audience? How will you collect and implement feedback?
How does your social media strategy contribute towards your wider impact strategy? Not all impacts will arise through social media - in fact most are probably going to arise from face-to-face interactions (which of course may come about via social media connections). Not all of the audiences that will be interested in your research will be on social media. To see how these strategies fit together, take a look at this example of an impact plan for a research project that includes social media as one of many pathways to impact: