Author: Rob Yeldham, Director of Strategy, Policy & Engagement at The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).
Social media provides membership bodies with a great way to have two way conversations with our members. It can be harnessed for campaigning, fundraising or advice sharing. However, for associations with regional structures the medium poses some interesting challenges.
One of the beauties of social media is that you can talk with someone on the other side of the World or in the same conference hall. You may want to use Facebook or Twitter to network members regionally but the medium encourages a wider dialogue beyond the boundaries you choose to impose.
Some organisations try to encourage regional engagement by setting up regional accounts or pages. However, the nature of the medium is that it is best when an organic community develops. Setting up your @associationmidlands account does not itself generate a community.
Regional social media risks diluting corporate messages and brand. Having multiple accounts can be confusing for stakeholders who do not understand your regional structures. Our London regions has the handle @CSPLondon. Many people assume this is our corporate account because we are based in London.
Social media is increasingly a place where negative comments are aired in front of the media. Differences between personal opinions and organisational positions can be highly visible. Having multiple regional accounts makes the chances of appearing to be at odds with yourself far greater.
So should associations avoid regional social media? NO, but you should think it though:
Find out about your members – How many of them use which social media channels? How interested are they in local as opposed to global issues? If you have digitally active members obsessed with their locality go for it.
Be clear why you are using social media – Being active on social media isn’t a valid objective in its own right. There are good reasons to use social media in your regional work ranging from publicising local events to more sophisticated lobbying of MPs. Being clear what you want to achieve will help you focus your efforts.
Equip your members – Don’t just leave it to your local volunteers to experiment. At the CSP we developed a social media guide for our members covering issues including; how to use different social media channels, planning, evaluation and reputation management.
Be realistic – Social media may seem cheap and easy but to manage it well is time consuming. If you’re depending on already hard pressed volunteers to manage regional social media accounts be realistic. As I’ve already said, if you’re going to use volunteers you need to support them properly too. Social media works best where there is regular interaction. If you don’t have the time to achieve this don’t choose social media channels such as Twitter which rely on speedy and regular interaction. Alternatively look at how you can reflect your regional work better through your main corporate accounts, rather than setting up new regional ones.
Help members stay on message – Ensuring you known who is running regional accounts, and keeping those people up to speed on your polices, is critical to avoiding message dilution and reputational damage. At the CSP we allow regional networks to create their own accounts but insist they register the administrators with us. We are now developing plans for regular briefs for our twitteratti to give them the right messages at the tight time, but this is still work in progress.
Be clear who deals with negative comments – Social media invites complaints and negativity. It is important that associations manage complaints to regional accounts in the same way you do your main account. At CSP we have developed a decision tree to do exactly that.
Measure effectiveness – Social media effectiveness can and should be measured. This is an evolving discipline and there are a range of different measures used to judge the effectiveness of social media. Choosing some appropriate measures should enable you to test the impact of you regional accounts over time, and against each other.
So how do you use social media in your regional work? Share your thoughts, get in touch:
Contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org