Don’t Start What You Can’t Maintain: The Back Side of Social Media

snoopy-social-mediaSocial media is FUN. You get to make new friends. And pass along really interesting information. You get to ask others to help you change the world and support your cause. You meet all sorts of wonderful, generous people. But what are you really doing? You are creating gathering places, living rooms for discussion, kitchens for cooking up ideas, in order to develop real stakeholders. Social media is, after all, an engagement strategy. You want to create online ties that engage, create relationships, and move people to act on behalf of a cause, company, or organization. After you spend all that time creating those relationships, you have to commit to maintaining them.

What happens when you can’t be there all the time that your stakeholders want to drop by? Or if you decide it’s just too much work to cook meals regularly for all of those guests? Maybe your organization realizes that it’s hard to maintain all those relationships, and just as difficult to post regular content.

This post is a look at the back side of starting a social media presence: the obligations of maintaining it.

It takes three to six months of work to build up an organization’s social media presence. I think it takes a minimum of three months to start seeing a return on that engagement. Don’t start if you can’t commit to maintenance. Select your platforms carefully – what do you have time to maintain, and which platforms will take more time and resources than your organization has currently? The hard truth is that you have to commit to keeping that virtual kitchen stocked with food, and the virtual living room accessible. That means keeping the blog fresh with new content, communicating regularly, creating real relationships on social networks and offering information and conversation topics on platforms regularly.

If your organization’s social sites are not tended to with care, then your organization is actually risking its online and offline credibility.

Here are some quick thoughts on the repercussions of not tending to your online presence:

1. People stop caring.

In the hyper-paced world of social media, your followers and fans quickly lose interest and forget you. Here’s the test: the last time you or your nonprofit took a break from creating regular online content (conversations, news, articles, etc), how many people asked you where you were? There are a lot of organizations vying for time and attention online. Tend to those relationships regularly and cultivate lasting ones. The real test is creating relationships where someone writes to ask: “How are you? Haven’t seen you posting much lately.”

2. People stop spreading your news.

Viralness is a key factor in social media. If you aren’t maintaining connections, people are less likely to pass along your content. Relationships strengthens the desire to “do good” for others, whether that’s passing along content, recommending your site, or suggesting someone become of fan of your Facebook Page.

3. You lose friendship credibility .

If you’re not there for them now, will you be there later? If you post content randomly, or only sporadically engage online, how can they count on you? If you are a regular news source for information in your field, you need to continue to do that. What if you posted content regularly, gathered a following, then stopped? When your organization decides to resume, it’s lost its credibility for being dependable, and for maintaining the site. It may very well have lost viewers it cannot ever regain.

It’s tempting to think that “no one will notice” if you are not maintaining your homes regularly, but someone always drives by. It’s also tempting to think “it’s all right if we don’t put up any new content for a month.” But someone cares, and misses it. That fan who would’ve done anything for your cause is a lot less likely to do that when they don’t know why you went away for a while…or when you are coming back.

There is a marketing credo that it is much cheaper to keep a regular customer happy than find new customers. No matter what type of organization you are, it’s easier to keep your existing following than to build a new one.

What do you think? Is your organization struggling with this very issue? How are you addressing the issues of time/maintenance/engagement?

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 Debra is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.

image: Social media musings