Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How to Develop a (Small-Scale) Social Media Plan

Yesterday, I enjoyed three hours of graduate students' presentations of social media plans for museums in the Pacific Northwest. I've been working with these UW museology students for the past quarter, and each partnered with a local client institution to develop a social media plan either for a particular exhibition, program, or initiative, or for an entire institution.

Here is the process I offered them for developing and writing these plans. It can be used internally by staff, or externally (as in the students' cases) as a consultant with a partner organization. There are three parts: the institution or initiative's content and audience goals, the institution's assets, and the project concept that will match goals to resources in an achievable way. In most cases, parts 1 and 2 were discussed in a meeting as background research, and then the project idea (part 3) was presented back by the project developer for feedback from the larger team. It turned out well, and I hope it's useful for you.

Part 1: Define your goals.
  1. What is this institution or initiative all about? Who is the target audience? These questions should focus and filter your planning more than anything else.
  2. What kind of new relationships is the institution seeking? How would the institution like to alter or strengthen its relationship with the target audience? What kind of relationship is sought? Relationship types may include: broadcasting, spreading, listening, sharing, embracing, energizing, supporting, research, exchange, conversation… Ideally, you will pick one or two relationships that seems appropriate to the mission and goals, although institutions that are looking at comprehensive media plans may need documentation and ideas in several relationship buckets.
Part 2: Define your resources and boundaries.
  1. What resources (time, money, and people) does the institution have to support this effort? What rules or control issues may prevent certain kinds of interactions? What are they already doing, what have they tried, and where are they now? These questions should help you define a reasonable scope for the project and hone in on some tactics that may be more appropriate than others.
  2. What is the institution's intent with regard to its desired audience? How will they manage, grow, and respond to their newly energized communities? You need to make sure you are recommending something that the institution can honestly, enthusiastically, and appropriately manage in the context of their work processes etc. This is very hard to ascertain from the outside, but asking questions like, “what will you do with visitors’ contributions?” or “what will you do if someone posts something that is inaccurate?” can help.
Part 3: Develop the ideas and explain the plan.
  1. Share your brilliant ideas. What are you recommending and why?
  2. What are the startup needs? What will the institution have to do to get this going?
  3. What is the promotion plan? How can the institution reach out to the target audience?
  4. What are the maintenance needs? What will the institution have to do to keep it going?
  5. What is the evaluation plan? How will this project be tracked and tested against the goals? How will you establish benchmarks and a starting baseline?

Upon review of the final social media plans, I was particularly impressed by the extent to which the students really took to heart the specific resources and constraints of their client museums to create realistic, achievable (and creative!) plans. For example...
  • Jill Hardy worked with a museum that is trying to attract a younger, more diverse adult audience. Recognizing that the museum is situated in a highly walkable, hip neighborhood full of representatives of the target audience, she recommended a highly localized campaign that gets the museum thinking "like a neighbor" and becoming a cultural block party/bbq hub for a tight geographic area.
  • Nicole Robert worked with a new institution that would like to deepen relationships with members and energize continued membership sign-ups online. Noting that the museum is at a very early stage in development and is still learning about its' audiences' needs (and getting their feet wet on the Web), she recommended a three-phase plan for both internal online skills development and external audience research and pilot projects.
  • Kylie Pine worked with a small, traditional history museum very unfamiliar with social media but interested in embarking on online discussion. She tied each digital idea to a physical concept with a well-understood historical significance, such as a time capsule and a hope chest.
  • Erin Milbeck worked with an innovative art space that has had a hard time attracting local audiences in a suburb fairly unfamiliar with contemporary art. She combined the challenge of limited time resources and the asset of a huge downtown storefront to recommend a window sign strategy that would introduce people to the space via text messaging.
  • Kathryn Fromson worked with a traveling exhibit developer who would like to connect audiences at different venues to each other and to online environmental information related to sustainable choices. She developed a physical take-home piece that connects any version of the traveling exhibit to a centralized website with both local and shared resources.
Every project focused on the reality that--as with any other initiative--social media plans should not be all things to all people. As much as the students offered client museums great ideas, they also offered peace of mind in the oft-repeated recommendation that institutions not do everything and be everywhere, but focus on a few things that are really tied to goals and mission. Go forth and do awesome things. And relax. You can do them one at a time.

9 comments, add yours!:

Jasper Visser said...

Thanks for this clear and helpful post on social media strategy. Recently I started working as the Community Manager for a new museum in The Netherlands and one of my main aims is the use of Social Media.

I am wondering if you have any thoughts on implementing Social Media plans/strategies in an organisation. What are pitfalls and how to overcome them?

Thanks again and I'll keep on reading your blog.

Nina Simon said...

When it comes to implementation, one of the key needs is some kind of handbook that outlines clearly for staff how they are encouraged to engage, what tools might be useful for them, and what restrictions exist. I wrote a bit about this here.

Every place has different struggles. You may want to check out this interview with the team from COSI, which is innovating their process throughout the institution. Also, Beck Tench runs a fabulous blog about her work bringing social technology to the Museum of Life and Science.

Anne W. Ackerson said...


Many thanks for this post. As with so many things, the concepts of initiating and integrating social media into organizations is often an overwhelming prospect. It sounds so easy, but where to start? Your focus on figuring out the audience and what's to be accomplished with/for that audience is precisely where organizations first need to put their creative thoughts. Choosing the social media to support those goals should then be a lot easier. Form follows function!


Anonymous said...

After your experience with these museology students, do you still think museum studies students are zombies to beware of?

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Unknown said...

Hi Nina,

I am running some social media for small museums workshops in the coming months at Thinkspace at the Powerhouse Museum here in Sydney www.powerhousemuseum.com/thinkspace, and will be including this post and your blog in general in the reference links for participants. Thanks for sharing your work and ideas.

Fundacion GALILEO said...

Very useful thank you so much for sharing this!!

larryhanson28 said...

This post is really a must for individuals or businesses that wanted to embark on a social media campaign. However, I would like to emphasize on the importance of formulating the milestone and the evaluation for each milestone to keep track of the plan.

Unknown said...

Great ideas and well said...
Every project focused on
the reality that--as with
any other initiative--social
media plans should not be all
things to all people
Amazing! I am hoping
best writings from you
in the future as well.
Astounding! I am definitely bookmarking this to come back
and read later
Astounding blog.

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