The temptation to sign up to each and every “shiny new thing” in social media is immense. And there is often pressure on PR professionals from elsewhere in the organisation to be there and be on top of all new developments. So, how do we decide which ones to use for our campaigns or ongoing PR activity? In the education and skills sector where resource for PR and marketing is often scarce, making the right decisions about which social media tools to use is important if we are to invest our time wisely.
Here are some of the factors that you should consider in selecting an appropriate social media platform or tool for your education organisation:
Do we know what we are trying to achieve with this platform?
I’m a great believer that we should never use social media simply because social media is there and we therefore feel we ought to. While it can be fun to use it, it also must deliver a clear benefit to your school, college, university or organisation. So, the first question to ask yourself is what you are trying to achieve with this particular platform. Don’t fit a need to a platform, fit a platform to a need.
Do we know whom our target audience is/are?
Once your need (objective) is established, you need to think about who you are trying to reach. Only by being clear about who your target audience is will you be able to work out if the tool you are exploring is appropriate for engaging with them and will deliver any return to your organisation.
What proportion of our target audience use this platform? Is this growing or declining?
Having defined who your audience is, you can now begin to find out whether they are, in fact, using the platform that you are aiming to use. Are enough of them using that platform for your campaign to be effective. Bear in mind, however, that you don’t always actually need your audience to be with you in the platform itself. You may simply be using that platform as a means of aggregating content elsewhere. YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare are good examples of platforms where this may be the case. Your target audience may have never heard of Slideshare, but they may watch your slides embedded into your website or another social media site such as a blog or a social network. When I first started using Twitter in 2007 nobody had heard of it. Back then, my first use of it was to post quick updates to the home page of my company website by pulling in my most recent post on Twitter. It didn’t matter that nobody else was using Twitter.
Does their use of this tool/platform suit our intended use of it?
You may find that a significant enough number of your target audience are using a particular platform. However, you need to ask yourself whether they use it in a way that would suit your intended use of it. For example, millions of teenagers may use WhatsApp, Kik and Skype to chat via instant messaging, but would it be right for a college to begin trying to connect with them that way?
Do we know what kind of content to share on this platform and how well would it work here?
Have we worked out what content we need to create in order to engage with our target audience? Different types of platforms suit different types of content. Blogs lend themselves well to text-based communications, but that content doesn’t translate well to a platform like Pinterest where content needs to be image-rich.
How easy is this platform to set up?
Some platforms are easier to get started with than others. Setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed takes mere minutes. Whereas building a blog (such as this one) can take several hours or days to perfect it and some technical know-how to get going (though setting up blogs doesn’t have to take that long, of course). How much time do you have to get going? Is the speed of starting it up all-too-easy and misleading you into thinking that the ongoing maintenance of that platform will also be quick and easy?
Does this platform require and specific technology in order for us to use it?
Some platforms require particular hardware or software to get started with. For example, if you’re going to use Instagram you’ll need some kind of Smartphone to make it work. Likewise, Audioboo or Soundcloud are great for sharing audio, but you might want some additional recording kit to get started with good quality sound recordings (an external mic for your Smartphone or computer, for example, or some audio editing software). Are there any restrictions in your school, college or university from you being able to access that technology?
How frequently does this platform need to be updated?
Is this a platform that will require your attention every day (such as Twitter, for example), or is it something that you can update more occassionally (such as YouTube or a blog)? What will be manageable and sustainable for you?
How many people need to be involved to sustain use of this platform?
Can your approach to using this tool succeed with just you managing it or does it require the involvement of more people to respond to enquiries or manage sub-accounts? Do you have them on board? Are they ready for this? Are they better adept at using other platforms?
What financial investment do we need to sustain our use of this platform?
Setting up a YouTube channel costs nothing more than a few minutes of your time. But to sustain an ongoing development of your channel you will probably need to invest in video production, or at least good kit for you to produce your own videos. It is also often not the case that if you build it they will come to your social media profile or page. You may need to factor in promotional costs to drive sign-ups/followers/fans.
How sustainable is the business model for this platform?
A few years ago a client asked me to build their blog for them. They insisted on Posterous because it was a technology that they had developed some basic familiarity with and they liked the functionality of it. I tried to persuade them to use wordpress instead. At the time they believed that Posterous was a good choice. But in this last week we have learned that Posterous will be closing down by the end of April 2013. The reality of many social media platforms is that they don’t all have sustainable business models, and so many of them end up either being acquired by other companies (Delicious is a good example of this) or simply fold altogether. Is the platform that you are thinking of using likely to survive and, if this is questionable, might you be able to transfer your content (and all your hard work) to another platform is this does happen?
How vulnerable is this platform to attacks/spam, etc?
As education organisations we have a particular responsibility to our audiences to use social media in a way that is safe to them and to ourselves. This is particularly true if we ever use social media to connect with young people and children. We must therefore make a judgement based on how vulnerable some sites are to attack (how many of us have received links to ‘dodgy photos’, for example, from a hacked Twitter account?).
Is the culture of our organisation ready and suited to the use of this platform?
This is an extremely important consideration but one that is often neglected, ultimately resulting in your choice of platform just not working for you. Culturally, what is your organisation like? Typically in education our organisations are fairly hierarchical and controlled (though this varies considerably, often dependent on leadership in my experience). But opting for a platform that is very open and doesn’t allow you much control (let’s say a wiki, for example) may not fit well in a culture where your management team must dot every i and cross every t. How well does the platform you are considering fit that culture?
Is the cultural relationship we have with our target audience suited to this platform?
Furthermore, even if your organisation is very open, trusting and collaborative, your audience may exist in a relationship with you where they perceive you to be ‘authoritative’ and ‘official’. If that is the case, how will your request to be their ‘friend’ on Facebook and start chatting casually with them go down?
What other alternatives are there?
Make sure that you have considered other alternatives to the platform you are exploring. If we look at tools in isolation then we can easily get fixated on that one tool. Remember, people often have their personal favorites in social media and you could easily get caught up in their fixation on a particular tool.
How can we measure and evaluate our use of this platform?
Particularly working in education and often dealing with tax-payers money in our PR and marketing activities, we have a responsibility to know that we are making a wise use of our limited resources. Therefore knowing that we can measure a particular tool is important, and knowing how we might do that before we commit to using it will ensure that this has been thought through.
Download this guide – Choosing-social-media-platforms
I’ve typed this guide up for use in workshops that I run for my clients, and am happily sharing that here as a downloadable pdf as a quick checklist for you. I hope that you find this helpful.