Joining the Conversation: A Case Study in Social Media

By Jennifer Kelly, Canopy Advisor

You may share an idea at the coffee shop, where less than a dozen people will hear your expertise, and where only one or two understand or care. Social media magnifies the number of people who hear you but focuses the conversation on a mutual interest, increasing the impact of any intelligent statement you make. Isn’t that the conversation you should be joining?

In business, however, conversations are time-consuming and thus expensive, especially when they have no tangible benefit… and serious people never open Facebook, right? Busy, important people do not add comments at the end of online articles. We certainly do not respond to the hacks that disagree with us. And we have more important things to do for our organization than post a blog or a quick message about best practices on LinkedIn. Right?

Well…. wrong, especially for small companies and non-profits that do not have a well-known brand or a wealth of high-level, experienced executives whose exchange of ideas and experience will take you further as an organization. We cannot all be members of the exclusive Young Presidents Organization, where chief executives hob-nob confidentially with other global business leaders and learn from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

So we need to find other ways to join in the conversation, not only to learn from other like-minded people through the sharing of best practices, but also to create brand awareness by demonstrating our expertise as thought leaders and innovators in our field – whether it be advocating for others, advancing technology for use in healthcare, or promoting a new snowboarding product.

“By bringing together people who share interests, no matter their location or time zone, social media has the potential to transform the workplace into an environment where learning is as natural as it is powerful.”

— The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media

For example, an education-focused non-profit recently wanted to broaden its reach by engaging other educators in some of the innovative approaches they were finding to be successful in raising student achievement in public schools. They have a strong leadership team, a robust website, and a slate of directors who are building relationships around the region as they simultaneously create tools, resources and financial support to drive improvement.

This foundation is also committed to leveraging the power of collaboration, and its leadership recognized that a generation of young teachers and principals, who are using technology in their classrooms, must already be participating on social media in a larger learning-conversation about how to improve what they are doing for their students.

So the foundation decided to join the conversation to encourage these young teachers and principals to embrace the foundation as a thought leader with a strategy for positive, sustainable and scalable change.

Working with a Canopy advisor, they implemented the following social media project plan:

  • First, they picked a single topic to focus on as their foray into a directed social media campaign.
  • They created a list of ten article concepts with a goal of publishing one every two weeks.
  •  The advisor wrote articles promoting both the foundation’s brand and the specific reforms the   foundation is advocating in education.
  • The Canopy advisor also conducted online research to identify a mix of journals and websites that were both educator-specific and for a general audience locally and nationally (e.g., Edutopia, Edudemic, Ed News Colorado, Yahoo Voices, Fresh Ink and the Denver Post).
  • Once an article was publication-ready, it was submitted to the selected site.
  • When the article went live (which it almost always did, since it is much faster and easier to get published online than through traditional journals), the Canopy advisor recorded hits and likes, and more importantly, visited other like-minded sites and blogs and joined the conversation there by posting a link to the published article and monitoring the additional responses coming in.
  • In addition, the foundation was able to use the articles as PR on its own website, Facebook page and more.

One of the articles, published on an education technology site that claims more than 1 million views per month, was tweeted 216 times, posted on Facebook by 105 readers, and shared on Google+ 37 times, LinkedIn 54 times, Buffer 31 times, and Pin It 11 times. After more than 1 million people had access to the article in the first month, ~400 people not only read the article, but pushed it to their contacts, which increased the number of views exponentially. For a small company or non-profit working to have its voice heard or raise its profile with potential funders, those numbers could mean a great deal.

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Even those of us unprepared to buy-in to social media as an effective means of getting the word out have to admit that the best-designed traditional brochures cost more to create and do not travel quite so far. Joining the conversation is mission critical for almost any organization – and with a directed social media campaign, you don’t have to be a big name to get a seat at the table.