Posted by Andrew VanderPloeg
In part 3 of my response to the question of what my approach is to writing, I want to talk about directives – that is, the set of constraints and goals that you set up when beginning to write in a social media context. To do that I need to come back to the conversation that was the genesis of this series, the full comment from my friend was: “I'd like to know how you approach [writing]. Everyone must have a plan“.
It’s that last little bit about people having a plan that I want to touch on in particular. You see, while I can fully appreciate why that presumption is made, I don’t believe it’s the case.
To my mind, there really are two groups of people out there that are writing in a social media context:
Group 1 - Those that essentially treat it as an online journal, broadcasting the details of their lives in order to keep those around them up-to-date on the happenings of their day. This type of usage, although an incredibly effective method for people to keep in touch (i.e. see Facebook), doesn’t present much value to organizations whether they are for profit or not. It is also undoubtedly one of the biggest presuppositions we have to overcome when trying to communicate to ministries and non-profits that there is value in tools like Twitter. I’ll touch on this more fully some other time, but suffice it to say, when people hear “Twitter”, they immediately seem to conjure thoughts of tweets like:
7:22 AM - “Leaving to walk the dog”
7:28 AM - “Dog at fire hydrant”
7:29 AM – “I just realized why fire hydrants are yellow… makes sense.”
Group 2 - Use social media to achieve some measurable goal. They are people who are striving to use, or figure out how to use, the tools that comprise social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc…) to grow their constituency or their donor base or bottom line. And it’s not that this type of usage can’t also include an element of personal information (allows your followers to connect with you on a personal level which can be hugely powerful). The trick for this type of usage though is to write purposefully and stay on point over time. This is where the ideas of directives and strategy come in.
I’ll offer two ideas to accomplish this:
1. Establish a Voice – You want a consistent sound/tone coming out of your writing. Is your organizations brand humorous and irreverent? Is it reserved, passionate or compassionate? The voice you aim for needs to represent who you are. This can become a real challenge when you’ve got multiple contributors to the same blog, as is the case on Xpiritmental. But by establishing a voice, you create a body of work that will help guide you over time to stay “on voice” and if you have multiple contributors, will help them to write consistently. One great example of this is the corporate blog for 37Signals called Signal Vs. Noise.
2. Develop a Strategy - Write out a strategy for your social media interactions. What is the purpose of your personal or organizational time online? Who are you trying to impact? What can/are you going to write about (please pick something your passionate about)? These need to be defined at the very least in your mind but better yet in some documented form so that you can make sure that you don’t get off point. It’s easy to rally a group of interesting people around a point that they care about and you’ll benefit from that relationship.
Companies and organizations are made up of people - seems obvious doesn’t it? And yet…we miss the implications. It’s important to note that whether you have an organizational goal of using social media or not, chances are, your people are using it on a personal level and work being what it is in our lives, they will likely start talking about their place of employment. As such, in response to what has grown into a massive phenomenon that happens regardless of whether it is organizationally sanctioned or not, employees are representing their organizations online. In response, many organizations have rushed to create a social media policy. IBM had one of the first and most comprehensive statements for a major corporation – it can be found here.
Obviously, for those of us that are thinking in terms of writing for personal reasons, the guidelines need not be quite that formal, but I believe the concept of directives still applies and can be transferred.