10 Trends in Sustainable Social Media

A recent Reuter’s article: Top Ten Trends in Sustainable Business, focuses on the best trends in “green business,” I’m struck by how many of the points are applicable to sustainable social media. Here are my top trends in sustainable social media (hat tip to Reuters):

1. A deeper understanding of what sustainable social media means.

Sustainable social media is not about creating a Facebook page so people can find you, or tweeting your blog posts automatically, it’s about long term engagement. Sustainable social media means creating conversations, really listening to your stakeholders’ needs, bringing stakeholders into your company for their input, and creating long-term strategies for deeper two-way engagement. If you have a deeper understanding of what sustainable social media means, you’ll see the return in customer loyalty, volunteerism, deeper engagement, and a host of other actions.

2. Your employees are your secret weapon.

True – they know and love your organization. Let your employees tweet, use Facebook, answer questions on Yahoo! Answers, post questions on Linkedin Groups, and more … on the organization’s behalf. They are the customer and client touch points. More and more companies are creating social media policies. You could create a social media policy for the workplace, ideally clear and simple, and as open as possible. Here are a number of collected social media policies.

3. Speaking with rather than to your customers.

The beauty of social media is that it allows real conversation. That’s called Web 2.0. Your stakeholders are using social media because they are asking to be part of the conversation. Bring ‘em in! Dr. Phil asks his Facebook fans questions. Donor Tools asked its customers where they should volunteer via their blog. Where can you get the great ideas your stakeholders have to share?

4. Storytelling and social media dance the perfect tango.

You have a back story. Your products, your services, and your organization have a back story too. People don’t want statistics and data, they want people, stories, and personal connections to the company. Use social media to give it to them. Here is a moving video about Abe’s Market that isn’t about Abe’s Market at all – but the producers who sell their organic goods to Abe’s. And I dare you not to cry at this moving video story from the organization Darius Goes West. What’s your story? How can you use social media to convey the story? How can you gather even more stories from the people who are engaged with your organization? Stories sustain interest, and your social media efforts.

5. Transparency is the badge of social media trust.

Social media begs transparency. Don’t hide anything because there are hundreds of people who would love to know the dirt and don’t mind digging for it. If you know your organization is hiding something, or not being as forthright as it should, it will come out … Eventually … somewhere on social media. And then it will be a big mess. Just look at Habitat UK. And here’s another true story: I know of a company that set up five twitter accounts so that the related accounts would retweet the company’s account. The same company also created a fake Facebook account to “friend” people and eventually encourage them to become a fan of the company’s Facebook Page. Fraudulent? Yep. Uncool? Totally. I’m waiting for someone to “out” them.

The more transparent your organization is, the more trustworthy your social media will be. And sustainable social media is all about building and maintaining trust.

6. There really is such a thing as ROI.

People will argue that you can’t determine return on investment from social media. Or return on influence. Or return on insight. I disagree. You can clearly see the effects that social media has on sales, membership, website visits, conversion rates from social media channels, online campaigns, and more. To create ROI, it’s critical to determine ahead of time what your organization’s goals are for social media. If it’s more online mentions, measure that. If it’s donations, or memberships, then track the activity through social media channels. Sustainable social media means measuring the return.

7. Create a strategy. Then follow it, and adjust it.

Your approach to social media should be strategic. Without an overall strategy, you’re just throwing pasta at the wall and hoping some of it will stick. The trend is away from individual channel approaches, towards a comprehensive strategy (as it should be). To do that, review your organizational and program goals, internal capacity, time, and level of commitment to social media. Create a social media strategy that supports your goals, and gets your organization where it wants to be. Define the channels you want to use, how you will use them, and how using each channel will help your organization meet its defined goals. Implement your strategy and adjust as needed. Sustainable social media means having a recipe and following it so that you are using social media effectively to support the company’s goals. And adjusting as needed (see #9).

8. Website integration.

Social media shouldn’t stand on its own. Sustainable social media strategy means that your entire web presence (including social media profiles and activities) ARE your website. It’s not just your URL now. I’m pleased to see more integration between websites and social in the last year. Examples are Facebook’s new “Like button” that you can put on your website, the social sharing features (tweetmeme, addthis, etc), integration of YouTube within websites and the blog on the home page. Until recently, the blog was always relegated to its own page, or a separate site. To create sustainable social media, you have to integrate the social into the website, while the website should also send readers out to your social spaces. It’s all one site.

9. Fear of Failure: to succeed, you can’t be afraid to fail.

Platforms change all the time, the audience becomes more savvy and jaded, and it’s a brave new world every day in social media. One day you think you understand a platform such as Facebook, and the next day Facebook changes the world. However, I’m starting to sense a fear of failure that may fossilize into a mindset as social media becomes more common. I hope not.

Trying is succeeding. Trying something new, solidly based upon strategic planning, is sustainable social media. Failure teaches important lessons to you, and to us all. It’s a big social media lab right now, and we’re always on the lookout for new combination that work. Don’t be afraid to try.

10. Stakeholders are upset if you’re NOT listening.

If you aren’t at least listening for mentions of your organization, key products/services/brands, then you’re missing out on the conversation. Customers are most often going to use twitter to complain and praise … and ask for attention. Set up web alerts of all types. It’s best to listen and respond. The expectation now is that you are listening. If you are not responding, little problems quickly become big ones. Listen and respond.

I think these are the big ones. What other trends are you seeing in Sustainable Social Media?

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at communityorganizer20.com and regularly provides advice to our eJewish Philanthropy community.

top image courtesy of Jeremy Levine Design; middle image courtesy of Nicks Not Too Shabby