Starting a social media account is simple, but developing an effective account that gets tangible results requires careful planning, creativity and ongoing time and effort.
Answering a few important questions before you begin can help you determine which social media platforms are best suited to your needs and what resources can help you effectively manage content, promote viewership and assess how well you are meeting your short- and long-term communications goals.
These suggestions for how to get started will primarily be helpful for social media users representing UMBC online, but might also offer insight for broader users.
Define Your Goals
- What are your communications goals? Are you trying to attract event attendees or members, solicit donations, share news, or start a conversation?
- Are your needs short-term or long-term? Once a channel is started, it requires ongoing coordination and support. Regardless of how much enthusiasm you have at the start, in the long term an inactive account can do your group more harm than good, frustrating followers and suggesting unreliability. If your needs are short-term, such as promoting a single event, guest posting on a related account might be best. If your needs are long-term, consider whether you have the time and resources to keep the account going and whom you could connect with as collaborators.
- How will social media relate to your current website, discussion board, group emails, or print materials? Will it complement existing communications, compete with them, or replace them? Consider that each communications tool you use will require a time investment, and more energy spent on social media could mean less energy spent elsewhere.
Consider Your Audience
- Who is your target audience? Are they already active in existing social media communities? To find out, go to each platform you are considering and search for terms relevant to your group. To learn about related accounts across campus, email Dinah Winnick, Director of Communications. Consider if it would make sense to create a new account or become an active contributor to an existing account.
- How does your audience want to be reached? Would they find social media communications convenient, timely and lively, or intrusive and annoying? Some groups prefer Tumblr or email newsletters, whereas others prefer Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat.
- What tone, style of communication, and types of content would your target audience find most appealing? A major goal of social media is engagement—developing conversation—so consider what would inspire your audience to respond.
Pick a Platform
- Social networks: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn
- Photo: Instagram, Flickr
- Video: YouTube, Vimeo, Snapchat
- Blogging: WordPress
- Microblogging: Twitter, Tumblr
- Internal networks: myUMBC
Choose a Social Media Management Tool
- Popular social media tools include Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social, AgoraPulse, Sendible, and Everypost, which have varying desktop and mobile capabilities. The exact offerings, services, and pricing of these products charge regularly. Evaluate them extensively prior to acquisition.
- Some of the biggest areas of concern for higher education marketers will include cost, networks that the product supports, and the permissions capabilities (i.e. approving posts prior to posting).
- It’s also important to keep in mind that most social networks have their own native tools for posting, such as Tweetdeck for Twitter and Page Manager for Facebook Mobile. These tools may be the best social media management solution for those who manage a small number of accounts.
- For those who decide to utilize a management tool, here is one article that can help with tool selection: “11 Keys To Selecting The Right Social Media Tools” (Social Media Today).
Create Your Account
- Complete your full account profile, creating a unique name and visual identifier. See the UMBC social media guidelines for tips on creating a recognizable online identity. For information on using UMBC logos and wordmarks, contact Creative Services Design Director Jim Lord.
- Provide as much specific information in your account profile as possible to give the fullest sense of your organization. In your profile, link to related accounts on other platforms. Include a description and history of your group if applicable. Include contact information. Take advantage of space to upload large header or background images.
- Follow other UMBC accounts and similar accounts at other institutions. For example, UMBC Library might also connect with libraries at other universities or the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let the Social Media Advisory Group know your UMBC organizational account is now live. In addition to boosting your content viewership, this can help you connect with fellow social media account administrators across campus, who can offer helpful support.
Develop a Content Strategy
- Determine who will be primarily responsible for managing your account and if others will contribute content or ideas. For UMBC-affiliated accounts: (1) consider how you will balance your personal voice with representing UMBC; (2) determine if you’ll need clearance from more senior colleagues prior to posting; and (3) when deciding who will serve as account administrator, consider longevity. For accounts with student contributors, we recommend designating a faculty or staff member as the primary administrator to maintain continuity year-to-year.
- Determine how frequently you will post. It is important to post regularly, but posting too frequently or repeating yourself can annoy and alienate your readers. Alternatively, if your time is limited and you are concerned about infrequent posting, consider joining an existing social media initiative rather than developing your own. For example, if your class wants to share research news occasionally and your department already has a successful Tumblr or blog, see if you can guest post on the existing site rather than creating something new.
- Articulate the core message and values you would like your posts to convey. Consider how you mind the gap between your unit/department/group goals and voices and broader institutional goals and voices.
- Consider how you will respond to questions and to both negative and positive comments. Because it can be difficult to resolve conflicts online, particularly on past-paced social media, it can be helpful to move the conversation to a phone call or in-person meeting, where problems can be discussed in greater detail and resolved effectively. For example, if you post about an event and receive an angry response from someone who paid for a ticket and didn’t get an email confirmation, you could apologize for the problem they are experiencing and then ask them to reach you at a given phone number or email address so you can help them resolve the issue quickly.
Expand Your Readership
- Effective social media managers are both content creators and curators of existing content. Develop your range of content and expand your social media network by linking to, embedding, recommending, or commenting on material posted by others.
- Explore other UMBC-affiliated accounts already using your social media platform. Connect with them by following or liking their accounts and engaging with their content.
- Include social media links and icons in your email signature, on your website or blog, and in print materials.
- On Twitter, use hashtags to connect your posts to others on the same topic. This can help you increase followers. Hashtags are also a great way to connect with fellow attendees at large events. Popular UMBC hashtags include #UMBC, #UMBC50, #UMBCproud, #UMBCspirit, #FutureRetriever, #UMBCsky, #UMBCgrit, and #HouseofGrit
- On Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, tag photos with terms that will direct viewers back to your account.
- Embed your social media feed in your organization’s website to keep the website fresh with visually engaging content and to increase the visibility of your social media posts.
Track Analytics and Use That Data to Improve Your Account
- Review your goals and decide what measurements are most meaningful to you. Frequency of posts can indicate your own activity level. Number of followers can demonstrate reach. Comments, retweets, likes, and shares can indicate reader engagement.
- Consider both quantitative and qualitative data for a complete picture of your performance. For example, beyond how many people read your posts, what qualities make your top posts so successful at attracting views or comments? Do your top posts touch on all of the key topics you would like to cover, or are readers passing over one type of content in favor of another?
- Keep track of how your analytics change over time, archiving older data so you can look back as needed.
- Regularly evaluate the data and adjust your behavior to better meet your goals: Are you posting often enough or too often? Are your posts successfully engaging your intended audience? Is the platform you picked meeting your needs? Is your audience large enough to sustain an active community?
- Use social media management tools to increase your efficiency and efficacy. For example, Social Flow can help you optimize your posts, communicating when your audience is most active. HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Sendible allow you to post to multiple networks, schedule updates and track reader engagement.