There are a TON of lists out there that identify the top _# of things to do for really anything you want to explore (whether it’s building a model or building an organization).  I’ve been thinking about these lists in terms of adopting social media tools and think that most of the lists are hitting on the same exact things.  So, why recreate the wheel over and over when the core theory is the same?

Here’s my list that I think hits at the core of all the other lists for social media strategy.

5-Part Social Media Strategy Process


Identify the audience or community you want to engage. This includes thinking about who you are already communicating with and how, as well as what groups you want to start communicating with who you currently aren’t including.  Who you want to talk to, listen to, and create a community with is the foundation for everything else you do with social media tools because it is what ultimately decides the success or failure of your other decisions—if you base your timing, tools, and process around those you want to be a part of your work, then you’ll be a lot more successful than if you pick tools you like when it’s convenient for you without considering the community you want to use them.


Identify the resources currently available within your organization. Resources include staff knowledge and comfort with different tools, experience levels of staff working with supports, volunteers, and the public, staff with time available, staff with appropriate job duties to include social media, available budget for training or workshops, etc.  Often, we forget that because the actual application/software/tool may be free, really using it is not.  What we put into our social media engagement is what we get out of it, like everything else in life.  If you only have an hour a week to post to a blog, then it is unreasonable to expect a lively conversation and community emerging from it, at least not very quickly.  By evaluating what resources you already have on hand in the organization, you are much more prepared to fully examine your options.  And remember, sometimes you assumptions about social media use and your staff can be way off!  There is something out there for all of us, and more and more people around the world are engaging online, so don’t assume that it’s only your college intern who knows how to use these tools!


Identify what success will look like. This is really helpful in order to evaluate the appropriate tools for your work.  If you want to create a space for volunteers and potential volunteers to share their knowledge and experiences with each other you are going to need very different tools than if you want to create a space for volunteers and potential volunteers to share that information with you.  It’s also important to remember that social media is a changing space, with tools and applications, even functionality, evolving every day.  So, your definition of success has to be flexible to the changing times and the changing needs of your audience.


Identify what technologies are most appropriate. Now that you know who you want to communicate with, who and what you have to work with in your organization, and where you want to go with the relationships, you can identify some tools to start exploring.  There are lots of blogs, directories, and lists available online to help you get started picking tools that match your goals.  One great way to help guide you in the process of identifying and selecting the most appropriate technologies is to ask your community!  What are they using now?  How would they like to engage with your organization?  Explain what success looks like to you and ask how they would go about getting there!


Identify what measures of success can be used.  You know who and what, and you identified where you want to go, but before you dive in you also need to establish how you can measure and monitor activity from day 1 onward.  This includes things you are probably looking at already like the number of visitors to your website and subscribers of your emails; but, it also includes metrics based on the funcationality of the tools you choose and how you identified success.  If you are using a forum, then measuring the number of replies to post (or, if your forum allows voting, then the positive feedback on posts) could be appropriate, as well as the ratio of people signed up vs posting vs replying, etc.  It’s incredibly important for the success of your work to evaluate how things are going throughout.  If something isn’t working to the degree you had hoped, it’s okay!  Identify that issue, and correct it with either an alteration to the current tool or set up, or by shifting the group to a different, more approriate tool.  Just be sure to openly communicate your evaluations, ask for feedback (“Do you see what we see?”), and explain any changes well ahead of time.

So, get going!

Of course, the hardest part isn’t getting to day 1, but all that comes after day 1.  Creating a successful startegy for using social media isn’t completely new – you are creating strategies for your communications, fundraising, outreach, volunteer recruitment, and more.  What’s great about so many social media tools is that all of those other areas can be integrated into your work/presence online!

What part of the 5-step process above was the hardest part for your organization to tackle? Which was the easiest?  Is the process missing anything – what would you add?

5-Part Social Media Process
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  • I like this. I would just say that I think the first three steps must happen before we even decide to use social media tools. They’re fundamental to getting anything done well: it’s at the ‘technology’ stage that social media tools become an option. (For instance, it could turn out that the best tool for the job is face to face meetings or written letters.)

  • Great point, Michael! I’ve seen this happen, actually: organizations wanting to investigate their options for using social media do a very thorough and thoughtful examination of their audience and goals and realize they don’t need social media to accomplish what they want! Certainly doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s proof that it is still an option.

    Thanks for chipping in!

  • Hi Amy,

    Great list. I think there is also another step in the process that stumps many orgs. Call it “Risk Analysis?” Many orgs want the assurance that any strategy and tools they choose will work! So, before tackling any new marketing plan it often helps for someone in the org to research and highlight case studies of other orgs (competitors are best) who have “been there, don’t that” and succeeded!

    My 2 cents!

  • great post .. reminds me of the cute dog theory

    one thing missing maybe is strategy … which is the nitty gritty of how you use tools?

  • Most organizations, whether non-profit or for-profit, seem to skip all five steps you outlined above. I would call this post “Top 5 Most Overlooked Social Media Processes.” Orgs seems to only spend time on the execution step. I think this is partly because social media is such a new concept, as Jocelyn mentioned. Partly, these steps are overlooked in any media/marketing project, not just social media.

  • Amy,

    This is a good list and puts things into perspective. Can I suggest you recommend additional resources?

    Your readers will want to understand that strategy is very much a holistic ongoing process, as much as we’d like to put it into convenient buckets.

    For example, “Groundswell” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research is IMHO essential reading for anyone with an interest in social media strategy.

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  • good point, beth! i obviously should have clarified that this was everything that gets you ready to build out the implementation strategy, or, what you do as your warm up to dive in to that nitty gritty. i think the problem i see most often is groups jumping straight to the ‘strategy’ phase built around a specific tool, instead of going through all of this groundwork to identify the building blocks to a more successful strategy.

    thanks for joining in!

  • Thanks, Jocelyn! I think you bring up a great point – a portfolio of case studies and experiential data from colleagues and contacts is a really important asset, especially when it comes to the initial executive/organizational buy-in. You can support your case for why your idea is a good one, but also have the material to show what others have done, good and bad.

    How do you recommend individuals or organization go about creating that portfolio of data if they are new to the community?

    Thanks again and happy new year!

  • Thanks, Roger – good point! Groundswell is certainly a great resource, and I’d recommend readers and those interested in learning about some excellent examples of companies using new media tools to successfully connect with and provide for their communities check out the Groundswell blog:

    You’ve got my mind a-flutter now though so I’ll need to post a roundup of some of my recommending reading soon. 🙂

    Thanks for joining in!

  • Wanted to clarify strategy – not so much how to blog or how to use twitter – but concepts like identifying influencers,etc.

  • Excellent point, Crystal! I’ve definitely seen groups skip all of these points as well, though obviously that isn’t the recommended process 🙂

    I like your point that it isn’t just social media strategies that are throwing groups off, but marketing and so on as well. What do you think needs to happen to change the thinking going on that leads to this? What would you recommend groups do absolutely first?

    Thanks for joining in!

  • Beth – Terrific – thanks for the clarification!

  • Hi Amy,

    HPY to you too! From a political perspective, one of the best ways to make your case for the use of a new tool or tactic is to figure out what your “competitors” are doing. all orgs (and ED’s) benchmark themselves against other organizations and want to “keep up with the Joneses.” So if you can show how another valued org has/has not successfully adopted a tool you can buttress you case. What can I say? Peer pressure is powerful.

    It’s also helpful to find “objective” analyses such as those done by an Idealist or NTEN, etc. to float up the ladder. And reports from vendors and agencies can also be helpful by showcasing what they’ve learned re: working with a number of clients. but, still just as in c-to-c decisions where friends play such an important influencer role. in b-to-b decisions other orgs are important to our decision-making processes.

    the more time I spend selling ideas internally (within the org) and externally (to clients) the more convinced I am that most of us aren’t “rationale” decision makers. We make the best decisions we can at the time with limited info and within the political constraints of our orgs, i.e. what makes the boss happy. Also, timing is everything. You never know when folks are going to switch to something new.

    XO, J

  • Jocelyn, this is great! Thank you!

    I think you are right on with the point that, whether we like to admit it or not, all of us do compare our organizations to others in the sector; might as well take advantage of it and actually make notes about what they are doing well or not so well!

    One thing I would add is the option to ask our supporters – if the org is seriously thinking about doing something new or different, then ask the email list subscribers or blog readers what they think and recommend. Not that it is necessarily the most objective or general group to query, but it IS a group that cares about what your organization does!

    Your objective suggestions are right on – I refer people with questions or those looking for a review to Idealist and NTEN, as well as to TechSoup’s great articles and forums, ALL the time. I even go there myself!

    Thanks again for such thoughtful feedback 🙂

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  • Amy, Thank you for this great resource as I embark on a journey to find the ACLU (of Northern California)’s niche in social media.

    It’s looking like Facebook will be a primary focus in 2009. (With its “disruptive” ability to aggregate information easily from across the Web)…

    Wish me luck! I will refer back to this to make sure I’m on the right path. -catrina

  • Catrina-

    Thanks for joining in! Good luck as you dive into social media on behalf of the ACLU!

    Please do keep us informed about your progress, insights, and especially your questions. Feel free to drop me a line any time or post a comment to all the readers.

    Thanks again

  • Liz Banse

    Amy, thanks for writing on this. I also consult on communications with nonprofits and view this list as applicable to any type of communications. Social media tools are the just the newest ones available to groups, but it always, always will come back to determining one’s goals, objectives, audience, messengers and strategy first, before deciding which tools to use. Your blog on this is a good reminder to folks.

    Is your photo with your dog in front of Multnomah Falls?
    Liz Banse, Resource Media

  • Hi Liz-

    Thanks for connecting! You are correct about Multnomah Falls, good eye!

    You make a terrific point: a lot of social media strategy building and building blocks for success are the same for quality strategies across the board, whether it’s communications, fundraising, or donor/supporter/volunteer recruitment. It does need to be said though that are still aspects of working in the social media world that are different than traditional areas the organization is involved and vice versa. There are a lot of mistakes groups can make by thinking the same strategies will work.

    Have you seen groups making that mistake or not?

    Thanks again for connecting and looking forward to continuing the conversation with you here.

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