Elements of a social media strategy: how new technologies can help you do old things better.

Author:Belt, Derek
 
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The term "social media" means different things to different people. For some, it's a set of marketing channels used to push out information. For others, it's a method of generating buzz. And for the really savvy, it is customer service reimagined. Whatever your perspective, social media has changed the way we communicate--and there's much more to it than simply hitting "publish."

In our everyday lives, social media is the Facebook group that connects former coworkers long after they've left the company; the Twitter chat that unites educators from across the country to learn about new teaching trends; the Pinterest page a couple uses to keep track of their home remodel ideas; or the blog a student uses to document her first trip abroad. And government that is "for the people" needs to embrace social media in a way that reflects these everyday uses. It's about making connections and bringing the public back into public service. Used appropriately, social media gives people a voice and makes them an integral part of the decision-making process.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

King County, Washington, has a social media specialist, and this position serves as copywriter, strategist, analyst, customer service specialist, and player/coach. A social media specialist advocates for new media, ideally by embedding social media in the organization's existing communications plans. Social media shouldn't operate in a bubble--to be successful, it must be part of everyday operations.

The role of technology is constantly expanding and changing the way we do things. Two decades ago, few people could work remotely because they physically needed to be in the office to stay connected to coworkers. The Internet has obviously changed that. And today, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs are changing the way we operate again. Interactions between people and government and are easier now, and they can happen faster, and engage new audiences.

Facebook's fastest-growing demographic is adults aged 45-54, a segment that has grown 45 percent since 2012. Also, roughly 25 percent of online Hispanics and African-Americans are on Twitter, compared with just 14 percent of whites. Instagram is mostly women (68 percent) and people under 35 (90 percent), while LinkedIn has the white-collar audience and skews toward men (61 percent). However, LinkedIn also offers the least diversity, with 80 percent of users identifying as white.

These tools present governments with wonderful opportunities to connect with the people and communities they serve. But making proper use of them means knowing who is using which social network and which ones are right for the job at hand. Just as a golf glove isn't especially useful at a baseball park, and it doesn't make sense to start a YouTube...

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