If You Build It, They Will Come … Maybe.

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This is a guest post by Sohini Baliga, writer and communications consultant who has produced and written extensively for clients in both for and non-profit sectors. Check out her last post on IG and follow her personal blog.

Far too many nonprofits and small companies do not get what they should out of social media. Reasons abound. But not the least among them is the idea that social media can run itself. I call it the “if you put up a Facebook page, they will come” school of thought. However, nothing could be further from the truth, and therein lies the lack of traction for many a social media outreach plan.

“How hard can it be?”

It’s not. This is true. Which is why 13-year-olds have Facebook accounts the second they can (friended promptly thereafter by parents who know that a teenager’s ability to set up an account vastly outstrips any understanding of privacy, but I digress). The ease of setting up social media tricks us into thinking it can run itself. After all, if this is something a kid can do, how hard can it be, right? Right. And wrong. Once set up, your social media presence requires time, effort, know how, and consistency—like any part of your communications plan. Otherwise you have yet another piece of the web that hasn’t been updated in months, years—the Internet’s equivalent of “lights on, nobody home.”

“Hello again … hello.”

Oh, they may like your page or follow you, but if you don’t show up on their feed in some consistent and valuable way, your hard earned followers are going to forget about you. Worse, if you finally post something, and it isn’t truly earth shattering, they might question the connection and you may be out with the spring e-cleaning. (Oh yes, that happens.) Social media is about conversation first. If you don’t keep the conversation going, you stop cultivating your community. Tend that conversation. Keep it going. Find reasons to reach out that are relevant, valuable, if not outright fun or interesting. That may not require a huge increase in budget, but it does require time, and presence.

“Get the interns to do it.”

Delegate, but oversee. That conversation you just read about in the previous point? Get your professional staff to buy in and actively be part of it! Because if anything, the ease and seeming cost effectiveness of social media makes it possible for everyone to have a faster, bigger, more viral conversation. All the more reason to have a seasoned staffer at the helm, someone more likely to know what interesting tidbit to cross-promote from the news to your demographic. Conversely, if you’re staring at bad news that just went “Kony 2012 big,” it is neither best practice nor fair to have the intern be solely responsible. It may be a great learning experience for the intern, but s/he will be learning on your dime.

Treating “free” cheaply.

The financial ease (and still often younger staff) through which social media enters into the communications matrix probably remains one of the biggest reasons social media doesn’t seem to reap rewards. For far too many organizations, social media still remains the afterthought that is without it’s own line item in the budget, so it’s not taken seriously and relegated to the kids’ table. Specifically, it gets delegated to junior staff member who has more responsibility than authority, and consequently remains underfunded, understaffed, and inconsequential. This is particularly true of small organizations that haven’t yet started to pay for the free twitter account. That’s where social media can end up being the couch that no one picks up off the sidewalk until you put a price tag on it. To them I say, pretend it does have an upfront price, and treat it accordingly.

Just do it.

All of the above naturally give already-stretched managers pause. Because the price of social media for small companies and nonprofits is, of course, time. And who on earth has more time for yet another thing in the day? To which I’ll say this—you didn’t used to have time for email either. But can you imagine an organization today that doesn’t have email? Some people struggle with how much email they get, but the vast majority of us fell into the routine that works most efficiently for us.

And so it is with social media. Just do it. Let a little dust fly, figure out which tools work for you, and find your routine. Otherwise what you leave on the table is a huge opportunity for community, fundraising, development, and visibility.