I have returned with some more junior adulting insights! This time, I’m going to talk about how social media functions in a professional sense and what I’ve learned about getting the most out of your social strategy. It can be tricky to find the balance between the “professional” and “social” aspects of professional social media, because you want your content to be fun and engaging but you still want it to be true to your brand.

I’m going to preface this by saying these are all things I’m very much still learning. Especially transitioning into a job with more creative freedom and more emphasis on digital spaces, I’m exploring a lot of content and strategy options I’d never considered before. I’m sure if I published a post on professional social media even six months from now, I would already have new or modified takeaways from my own experiences (hm…do I smell a semi-annual series within a series?).

Bottom line: this is what’s been helpful for me at this point in my career. Social media, like all digital spaces, is characterized by immediacy and malleability, so there will probably never be static answers. That being said, here are the best practices I’ve found so far:

Be strategic

Good social media looks effortless but, unfortunately, is not actually effortless. One of the biggest weaknesses I see in professional social media accounts is a lack of attention to detail in developing and posting content. Posts are published irregularly, with multiple posts one day and then no posts for several days (or worse, weeks or even months). They don’t clearly connect to the organization’s identity and seem distracted or disorganized. There’s plenty of room for flexibility in social media, but it’s important to keep content related to the organization’s brand; even filler content like holiday-themed posts or hashtag campaigns should have some thread of consistency with your brand. Example: if you’re a financial organization using the #TipTuesday hashtag, it might be a good idea to make those tips related to financial wellness or, even better, insights on how to get the most out of your organization!

The best first step I’ve found in developing a solid social media presence is to take the time to outline strategic priorities and goals, then translate those to a clear plan that includes brand-related messaging and a rough post schedule. You may not have enough content to post every day on Facebook, and that’s okay! It might make more sense for your organization to post every few days — what’s important is establishing a pattern and sticking to it as much as possible.

Diversify your content

Social media thrives on variety. It’s important to offer a mix of content like links, blog posts, images, videos, longer posts (if the platform allows it) and post sharing if you want to build a lasting, engaged audience. Providing varied content keeps your feed from becoming stale and gives audiences multiple ways to engage with your organization  some users may like with posts that include images best and others may prefer linked content. If you take time to incorporate all these types of content (as they relate to your brand and message), you have a greater chance of reaching your intended audience.

Make it fun!

Social media is “social” for a reason  fun, personal content is what tends to perform best. This isn’t to say your organization’s page should become a repository for cat pictures and bar photos (unless, of course, you’re an animal shelter or a bar!), but content that shows the human aspect of your organization is content that is most likely to reach and hook your audience. Again, it’s important to make sure even more informal content has a thread of relation to your brand and mission, but social media is there for an organization to “let its hair down” and have a little fun.

One of my long-term projects at work is auditing the social presences of every credit union in Michigan (and eventually, every credit union league in the nation) and one consistent finding is this: no matter the size of a page’s audience, the posts that tend to perform best are things like employee spotlights, event recaps (with pictures!), holiday parties, charity challenges and other content that puts the humans behind the organization front and center. Social media, at its core, is about developing and sustaining relationships; relationships are formed between people.

Start the conversation

Now that we’ve established that social media is about cultivating relationships with your audience, we can talk about how to do that! Social media success is often measured by things like engagement, page likes, post shares, etc. Put another way, what conversations are people having around your content? Are they commenting? Are you replying? Are they sharing your content with their friends? If you look at social media like a conversation, it becomes a lot easier to develop content for your pages. Ask yourself what type of content would inspire you to engage or start a conversation. That’s the kind of content you should be writing. When I’m developing a content strategy, I always try to include sample comment threads on each sample post I develop  if I’m struggling to think of what a conversation would look like, chances are my audience will too.

You also should make sure your organization is engaging with other professional pages and topics relevant to your industry. Post sharing, commenting, and linking as your organization is critical because if you aren’t taking the time to engage with other content in your social sphere, why should they engage with you? The more you can create those connections and join relevant conversations, the more your audience will want to pay attention.

There’s not a standard checklist that leads to the perfect social strategy. Many times, it takes trial and error to see what your audience will respond to best (and once you figure that out, doing more of it!). In my experience, having a strategy to keep the organization’s voice regular and consistent, utilizing a variety of content types, having fun, and focusing on conversations is what helps me be most successful when using social media as a professional tool. And also being ready to throw it all out the window at a moment’s notice, if needed.

What strategies do you employ when developing a social identity for your organization? What has worked for you, and what hasn’t? Let me know in the comments!

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