3 (4?) Cs of social media lifecycle, and thinking 2 steps ahead.

In our few interactions, perhaps the most notable thing my father shared was a love for chess. Particularly the importance of thinking two steps ahead: when you move that pawn out to free your bishop so it can back up a move by your knight, for example. Similarly, with the traditional social media development cycle — the 3 Cs, if you will — there’s a real need to think two steps ahead.

The way most people handle establishing a social media lifecycle comes in 3 Cs:
Creation: Setting up the account
Connections: Collecting friends or followers
Content: Establishing things worth reading, looking at or watching — and just maybe a strategy

It’s how most people think of developing a social media presence for their organization, business or other brand. Facebook sets the tone when you try to establish a page:

Set up a profile picture, invite friends to become fans, then put info (among other content) on the page? Like so many users who say “let’s have a Facebook!” for their brand, and don’t think about a content strategy, this is doing things in the wrong order.

In social media, you have to think two steps ahead. You need to ask: What do we have/what do we do that people would care about? What would they want to hear about on a regular basis? Moreover, what would make users want to engage, and to share our posts?

I presented a Social Media for Staff workshop a few weeks ago, and some attendees pointed to pages for other entities at the college (not theirs) where all posts came from the page. Not a single comment. Not a single fan posting. Nearly nary a Like. Why? Because the content was all one-way pushing of information. Page administrators pulled out a bullhorn, blasting events and information that they found much more interesting than their fans. And the pages had hundreds of fans … but quantity means nothing without quality of engagement. Given the uninteresting nature of the content, some fans may mentally skip over those posts on their feeds, intentionally or not. I’ll admit, especially when busy, I skim past posts from those who are serially uninteresting.

How to solve this problem? Think two steps ahead. Don’t just say: We need a Facebook! Ask: What content would our target audience want? NOT: What content do we want to push to users? (Related: You do know who your target audience is, right?)

How do you get there? Before you set up that Facebook or Twitter presence, look at accounts that do engagement well — get a lot of comments, shares, retweets. Start real-life conversations with those you’d consider fans — see what topics or events (content) they value and would like to see shared and discussed via social media.

What kind of content engages? Facebook polls or general audience questions can work well if they hit on an interesting subject (especially one that cuts straight to your brand experience, such as graduation or moving on campus for colleges). Photos of people or interesting scenes. Images or short videos that elicit some kind of emotional response. News tidbits your target audience (NOTE: not necessarily your administrators) tends to discuss already.

In short, to quote Stephen R. Covey, begin with the end in mind. Thinking two steps ahead will start that new Facebook page or Twitter account off on the right foot … so you won’t have to either run to catch up or wonder why the sound of crickets pervades your space.

PS/EDIT: Mike Petroff from Emerson College had a great comment that there should be a 4th C: Conversation. Agree completely! This comes after you have a community with which to converse over your content.

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