Social media is challenging for all organizations, big and small. Almost all agree on why social media is important; it is a powerful and very inexpensive tool used to establish positive connections with donors, volunteers, other organizations, and their shared community. However, understanding how to effectively and successfully leverage social media to improve brand awareness and recognition escapes many of the organizations that walk through Phil’s open door.

Phil social media treeOne of the most confusing phenomenons for organizations who try out social media is the paradox of the instant-gratification expectation. What do we mean by this? Just because feedback and engagement happen quickly on social media doesn’t mean that an organization can instantly create a successful social media presence.

This confusion often comes from people who have a successful personal social media following and expect this popularity to instantly translate into the organization’s social media presence. On our personal social media accounts, we post a nice picture of lunch, or share a link to a great article, and our friends instantly engage with our content because they know us outside of social media; the relationship already exists. For an organization’s social media account, many of the fans of the page have never had any direct interaction with the organization outside of that online channel. When organizations post without a strategy on social media–as they do on their personal accounts–they expect the same instant-gratification engagement. If it doesn’t come immediately, their hard-wired expectation isn’t met and they are left frustrated, disheartened, and exasperated.

The challenge for organizations is to create an online presence that is so engaging, people who have never heard of or interacted with them outside of social media will want to engage with them on their pages.

Growing a successful social media presence takes time, patience, care, and intent. At Phil, we like to allude to social media as a tree. Each part of the tree, its surroundings, and the stages of its growth are essential to producing a full-grown, healthy tree.

In this process–because it is a process–the seed of the tree is the intent: the goal of having a flourishing social media presence. Getting this seed to grow requires resources (water), and time. A seed also contains all of the DNA for the tree; what are the objectives of the social media presence? What does the organization want it to look like and what goals do they want it to obtain?

Once the seed is planted, the roots gather information to feed the social media presence. Listening before the organization throws out content is the most important part of any social media presence. Learn about the audience, similar organizations, the community. What do they care about? What are their needs, interests, and questions? This information is constantly changing. Constantly monitoring the landscape keeps social media channels relevant and engaging.

The social media strategy through which all information is funneled and housed is like the trunk of the tree. After learning about what the audience wants, decide how it will be presented to them. How much of the information will be brand, community, lifestyle, programs, etc.? What channels will it be posted on? When will it be posted? To protect the trunk, you need bark. The execution plan and online content posting tool is like the bark. If you decide to post three times a day on Twitter, then devise a plan for when, who, and how it will be posted. There are a myriad of online platforms available to cultivate, organize, schedule, and post content. Choose one that fits the organization, follow the protocol, and post accordingly. Without the bark, the trunk is exposed and opportunities for growth are missed.

The main branches of the tree represent the content being posted through social media channels. Choosing channels that will best reach your target audience is essential to a successful social media presence. If you want to reach qualified volunteers and millennials, LinkedIn is a great place to start. Posting once a week on Pinterest is not.

The content that you post is like the leaves and the audience is like the sun. Properly placing the leaves to soak up the sun gives the tree life. However, the positioning of the leaves and their quality clearly starts from the ground up. The better the leaves are placed, the more sun the tree receives and the more the tree grows. Social media works very similarly. Post content your audience loves, and they’ll show that love by engaging with your channels.

At Phil, we frequently see organizations with withered, unloved, or nonexistent social media trees. They come to us for help. “But my personal social media account does well”, “I’m sharing interesting content and no one seems to care”, “I can’t find anything/ don’t know what to post”. These organizations approach social media by gathering withered leaves (content) and tossing it back into the wind, expecting something will take root. Without reflection, listening, and careful thought, a successful social media strategy has no chance to grow.

Growing a tree is not an immediate process. However, once the tree is grown and healthy, it is sustainable and its growth is directly related to the sustenance it receives. You get what you give.