Starting a social media account is fairly simple, but developing an effective account that gets tangible results requires careful planning, creativity and ongoing effort. Answering a few important questions before you begin can help you determine which social media platforms are best suited to your needs and what resources can help you effectively manage content, promote viewership and assess how well you are meeting your short- and long-term communications goals. These suggestions for how to get started will primarily be helpful for social media users representing UMBC online, but might also offer insight for broader users.
Define your goals
- What are your communications goals? Are you trying to attract event attendees or members, share news, or start a conversation?
- Are your needs short-term or long-term? Once a channel is started, it will require ongoing coordination and support. Regardless of how much enthusiasm you have at the start, in the long term an inactive account can do your group more harm than good, frustrating followers and suggesting unreliability. If your needs are short-term, such as promoting a single event, guest posting on a related account might be best. If your needs are long-term, consider whether you have the time and resources to keep the account going.
- How will social media relate to your current website, discussion board, group emails, and/or print materials? Will it complement existing communications, compete with them or replace them? Consider that each communications tool you use will require a time investment, and more energy spent on social media could mean less energy spent elsewhere.
Consider your audience
- Who is your target audience? Are they already active in existing social media communities? To find out, go to each platform you are considering and search for terms relevant to your group. To learn about related accounts across campus, email Communications Manager Dinah Winnick at email@example.com. A UMBC Social Media Directory will be available soon. Consider if it would make sense to create a new community or become an active contributor to an existing community.
- How does your audience want to be reached? Would they find social media communications convenient, timely and lively, or intrusive and annoying? Some groups prefer email newsletters or subscribing to a blog’s RSS feed.
- What tone, style of communication and types of content would your target audience find most appealing? A major goal of social media is engagement—developing conversation—so consider what would inspire your audience to respond.
Pick a platform
Create your account
- Complete your account profile, creating a unique name and visual identifier. If you plan to use the UMBC name or wordmark for your account, follow the UMBC style guide and naming conventions. For information on using the UMBC Retriever logo contact Creative Services Design Director Jim Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Provide as much specific information in your account profile as possible, linking it to related accounts on other platforms, including a description and history of your group if applicable, and offering contact information if appropriate.
- Register your account with the UMBC Social Media Directory (coming soon) to connect with our social media community. In addition to boosting your content viewership, this can help you connect with fellow social media account administrators across campus, who can offer helpful support.
Develop a content strategy
- Determine who will be primarily responsible for managing your account and if others will contribute content or ideas. For UMBC-affiliated accounts: (1) consider how you will balance your personal voice with representing UMBC; (2) determine if you’ll need clearance from more senior colleagues prior to posting; and (3) when deciding who will serve as account administrator, consider longevity. For accounts with student contributors, we recommend designating a faculty or staff member as the primary administrator to maintain continuity year-to-year.
- Determine how frequently you will post. It is important to post regularly, but posting too frequently or repeating yourself can annoy and alienate your readers. Alternatively, if your time is limited and you are concerned about infrequent posting, consider joining an existing social media initiative rather than developing your own. For example, if your class wants to share research news occasionally and your department already has a successful blog, see if you can guest post on the existing site rather than creating something new.
- Consider how you will respond to comments, queries and critiques. Recommended resources include DePaul’s “Tips for handling negative posts” and post response flow chart.
Expand your readership
- Effective social media managers are both content creators and curators of existing content. Develop your range of content and expand your social media network by linking to, embedding, recommending or commenting on material posted by others.
- Explore other UMBC-affiliated accounts already using your social media platform. Connect with them by following or liking their accounts and engaging with their content.
- Include social media links and icons in your email signature, on your website or blog, and in print materials.
- On Twitter, use hashtags to connect your posts to others on the same topic. This can help you increase followers. Hashtags are also a great way to connect with fellow attendees at large events.
- On Facebook and Flickr, tag photos with terms that will direct viewers back to your account.
- Partner with a related website. When a website includes your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or blog feed, their page remains fresh and engaging, and your social media content might receive increased traffic.
Track analytics and use that data to improve your account
- Review your goals and decide what measurements are most meaningful to you. Frequency of posts can indicate your own activity level. Number of followers, frequency of comments, retweets or likes can indicate reader engagement. Klout score can indicate Twitter influence.
- Consider both quantitative and qualitative data for a complete picture of your performance. For example, beyond how many people read your posts, what qualities make your top posts so successful at attracting views or comments? Do your top posts touch on all of the key topics you would like to cover, or are readers passing over one type of content in favor of another?
- Keep track of how your analytics change over time, archiving older data so you can look back as needed.
- Regularly evaluate the data and adjust your behavior to better meet your goals: Are you posting often enough or too often? Are your posts successfully engaging your intended audience? Is the platform you picked meeting your needs? Is your audience large enough to sustain an active community?
- Use social media management tools to increase your efficiency and efficacy. For example, Social Flow can help you optimize your posts, communicating when your audience is most active. HootSuite, TweetDeck and Sendible allow you to post to multiple networks, schedule updates and track reader engagement.