Managing social media accounts for public or private organizations. Part I: Must Know

I promised the attendees of my ESA 2012 Portland workshop that I’d address social media management on behalf of institutions/organizations. Here it is. This is version 1.0, so please comment if you have anything to add or if you think I’ve goofed!

A bit of background: I currently manage the social media accounts at NEON Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit that is overseeing the design and construction of a large, long-term ecological monitoring project. NEON Inc. is relatively new and also new to social media, so I’ve had a large role in developing the organization’s social media strategy and feeds from the ground up. I started doing social media in earnest as an intern at a large national lab, which had a well-established Facebook Page but not much in the way of a Twitter following.

Some things you must know if you are handling social media for a private or public organization:

1. Your organization’s social media policy

Find out if your institution has an existing social media or nondisclosure policy. Read it very carefully. You may need to change it. If it doesn’t exist, get started on developing one. To get started, check this database of social media policies for several examples from organizations that are similar to yours and/or have documented successful social media campaigns.

2. How to mind intellectual property, fair use law, and Creative Commons and GNU licenses

Many people think nothing of republishing a photo, video, sound file or graphic they find on the Internet without asking permission or crediting the source. Lots of individuals get away with violating copyright law everyday, but large organizations are more likely to get sued for it, particularly if they are for-profit. It is also just plain bad karma to use someone else’s work without their permission. You absolutely need to know about intellectual property and how to respect it.

Stanford University Libraries has a great site that explains copyright law both clearly and in detail, with example cases from the Internet and the music industry. At the bare minimum, please make sure you understand and remember everything in these two short sections:
Copyright Basics FAQ
Websites: Five Ways to Stay Out of Trouble

Disclaimer: I am not legally trained or an intellectual property expert. This is far from a comprehensive set of guidelines, just some starter information to make you aware of the basics of this very important issue.

I recommend that you be able to tell how a creative work is licensed, know how to hunt down originals and how to properly attribute any creative content to its original source. At minimum, state the author’s name and the source. Because we’re on the Internet, you should also link to the author’s website or web profile and to the original source where space allows.

3. Your goals

As an institutional social media manager it is extra important to establish clear goals for your organization’s social media account(s). Develop these with input from supervisors and managerial staff and make sure you all agree to them on paper. Clear goals will help you focus in curating and composing content for your feed. They will help you develop metrics to measure your progress (below). And if you later publish something that someone objects to, you can point out how it addresses the goals you all agreed upon and had engraved on the back of your iPad.

4. How you’re doing

Data are especially important if you’re trying to convince others of the value of social media outreach. Some tools and ways to track how you’re doing:

  • If you are server savvy, consider installing the open source Thinkup platform, which archives tweets and Facebook posts and visualizes basic metrics like followers, retweets, mentions, as well as tweet locations.
  • I hear Twitonomy does a lot of useful stats tracking, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Maintain Twitter lists of your target audience groups.
  • Use link shorteners like bit.ly that help you track clicks on your links.
  • Use Google Analytics (or Jetpack Stats if you have a WordPress blog) to sort out website hits that come from tweets.
  • Visualizations are always a hit when it’s time for a review. In addition to the visualizations automatically generated by some of the apps above, my favorite visualization tools are:

  • Tweepsmap
  • Tweetstats
  • Next, in Part II: The “I” in “we”: how to tweet as an institution.