Sunday, August 10, 2014

5 Laws of Social Media You Aren't Following Right Now

This past year has been a stunning opportunity to learn from the highly skilled people on my staff at the National Archives about what social media excellence is. I'm participating in an educational panel (in my own professional capacity**) in D.C. next week and will be drawing on some lessons they've taught me about how to do social media well. Here are a few key highlights:

1. Start with the subject matter, not the method of delivery.

My agency is essentially in the business of preserving our nation's cultural heritage artifacts and then making them as widely available as possible. Interestingly, the most successful social media efforts at my agency such as the wildly popular Today's Doc on Tumblr, begin with a passion for history, not an obsession with social media. Kudos to Darren Cole who heads that up.

2. Master the tools at a microscopic level.

Just because you studiously avoid obsessing about a particular kind of social media outlet doesn't mean that you ignore its unique capabilities. At my root I'm a communicator, and tend to focus mostly on words and pictures. But to do that is to ignore the vast range of technical possibilities that the different social media tools offer. I learned from my staff the importance of exploring, enjoying and using those to the maximum. I remember once that my boss, Chief Innovation Officer Pam Wright, described the "sweet spot" of social media as living at the intersection of subject matter mastery and mastery of the tool, and she was right.

3. Talk in the local language.

When I arrived at the agency I had a strong understanding of the importance of social media for digital engagement and an appreciation for the most popular tools out there. However, I did not fully appreciate the subtleties of each ecosystem. I learned from my staff to embed oneself deeply in the world of the "native" rather than impose oneself from the outside with a "message to share." Our local expert, in the Wikipedia world, is Dominic McDevitt-Parks and sometimes it is actually hard to tell which world he identifies with more, Wikipedia or that of our agency. (That is a good thing.)

4. Be data-driven.

Our social intranet expert is Kelly Osborn and she's spoken several times about the multitude of best practices she's learned in developing one. I've seen her deliver this talk and it is an astonishing experience, one that could easily be the basis of a book. What stands out for me is how methodically she has researched others' efforts and combined that information with a knowledge of online community-building and the culture of our agency specifically. Many people, myself included, make the mistake of taking the "hammer to a nail" approach to social media - e.g. because you're good at one particular thing, you bring that thing to each environment. By being data-driven, Kelly has managed to create a community that actually generates the spontaneous engagement most organizations dream of.

5. Put yourself out there.

This is a more general lesson. Very often social media staff are instructed to disseminate the message in the most appealing way possible. It's not about them - it's about the content that the organization wants to share. In contrast, a number of employees, including Dominic, actually live in the virtual interchange that takes place on social media. It's so important to be human, but more than that to simply be learning in front of other people, not to be shilling for a cause. (That is propagandizing.) It's humanizing, interesting, and shows that you are a credible person with integrity.

I hate to end the blog here because there really is so much more one could share. Suffice it to say that it's an honor to work with such a great team. As time goes on I see more and more how true it is that we do not "lead" other people to success. We only step back and shut up so that they can lead us.

* All opinions my own - not written on behalf of my agency.
**I won't be speaking on behalf of the agency, but have been granted time and permissino to speak and will share some lessons learned.

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