Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Social Media Engagement Tips: Study Your Target Communities First

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

Before you and your organization jump into implementing a “social media strategy,” be sure to study the communities you intend to interact with. Here are some of the questions you should ask in your research:

  1. How many different communities are there?
  2. How big are these communities?
  3. Where are they located?
  4. Who are they key players (both individuals and organizations)?
  5. What types of organizations make up these communities (e.g., trade or professional associations, commercial businesses large and small, individual consultants, government agencies, think tanks, academic institutions)?
  6. What are the main issues — technical, political, social, organizational — the different groups are dealing with?
  7. What is your own organization’s position on these key issues?
  8. Who are your potential partners — and competitors —  in engaging with these different groups?
  9. Who are your potential competitors?
  10. To what extent are these groups already making use of “new media” and “old media” in their own communications?

How much time you devote to this will depend on several factors. Depending on your schedule or budget you can do this type of research yourself or hire a consultant (here’s one) to help. There are a lot of resources available on the web to aid in your research, many of them free. At minimum, you should at least be recording details about your target populations in either a spreadsheet or a database so you can update and sort the lists as they grow.

Either way, you need this research to be as objective as possible. Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about your markets. Do be as quantitative as possible about numbers of people and numbers and types of organizations.

Part of what I recommend your doing is what we used to call “market segmentation analysis” in the market research business, only now a major goal for implementing a social media strategy will not necessarily be selling something but instead will be monitoring, publishing to, and interacting with a potentially diverse set of individuals in different overlapping communities. That’s a lot of potential “relationships” to manage.

Of the above ten questions, be sure to pay close attention to question number ten, “To what extent are these groups already making use of “new media” and “old media” in their own communications?.” Using social media and social networking based methods to engage with a variety of target populations will not completely replace the need to use traditional website, publishing, and research methodologies. The simple fact is that, in any large, complex population, the rates for adoption of new media and  communication technology will vary. Ignoring this fact will cut you off from useful information and insights.

Be prepared to meet members of your target markets on their own turf. If some prefer newsletters and email for interacting with you and your interests, and are slow to adopt public blogs, social networking, or Facebook types of tools, so be it.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald. For more Social Media Engagement Tips, click here.

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