May 9, 2016
Know How

How to make social media work for you in 2016

You probably hear all the time how social media is the key to reaching customers. Yet, how can you translate your efforts online to benefit your organization? It seems like Facebook prevents your audience from seeing your posts, so what's the point? Instagram doesn't allow your posts to link back to your website, so why is it worth it? Twitter can feel like you're whispering in a crowded room.

At Tower Hill Botanic Garden, even though we're part of an institution that is almost 175 years old, we need to stay fresh. In recent years, we've revamped our social media feeds in order to better communicate what our organization is all about and to better connect with new and frequent visitors. In the process, we grew our Facebook following by more than 250 percent. Here are some practical tips based on what we've found to making social media work better for your businesses and nonprofits.

1. Think of social media as an opportunity to build brand identity. You want potential customers to see your organization's name in multiple places. Maybe you have an ad in a local newspaper, a direct mailing list, a blurb in a trade publication or newsletter, or a booth at a local event. Social media is part of that mix. It could be the deciding factor that causes a new customer to finally turn to you. Seeing you on social media could be your introduction to that customer who may finally reach out when seeing your name, logo, slogan somewhere else. So, define your brand, and then get to work spreading the word.

2. People turn to social media for information and entertainment. In a way, people are crafting their own personal newspapers. They may open their Twitter account and see updates from the Worcester Business Journal, Tower Hill Botanic Garden and a cat playing the piano. They are not expecting to find a string of advertisements; they don't want to feel like they are flipping through the ad insert in the Sunday edition of a daily newspaper. So your posts are going to have to be more subtle. They need to inform and entertain.

3. Imagine your brand as a person. What topics are your brand interested in? What would your brand like to see in its news feed? If Tower Hill was a person, it would want to see posts about flowers, trees, gardening, climate change, agriculture, inspiring quotes, children in nature, botanic art and the like. So that's what we fill our feeds with on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. By doing so, we're showing what our organization values and hopefully encouraging like-minded individuals to add us to their own personal news streams.

4. Facebook is essentially an elaborate e-newsletter. Same with Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube. Your primary goal should be to build followers, so that when you do have something to sell, you have an engaged audience to target. You build followers by posting not only items about your organization, but also items from other organizations that share your values and interests. Your followers will then feel part of a community, which will encourage them to like, comment and share.

5. The key to translating social media success into results for your organization is enticing your audience to share your posts. This is the metric we find most likely to lead to a transaction. It also works as the best possible advertisement your group could receive because it's an endorsement from one unbiased citizen to another. So use the best images you can; use succinct language; interact with your audience; and experiment. Each post is an experiment in itself. What works today might not work six months from now. So be nimble, creative and willing to try something new.

Robert Burgess is the public relations coordinator at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the Boylston home of the Worcester County Horticultural Society.

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