How to Build Social Media Advocates to Weather a Storm

Chris Syme (@cksyme) is principal at, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Mont.

crisisWhen you’re putting together a social media strategy, do you think about what role crisis readiness plays in your plan? A study by the Altimeter Group suggests that organizations with the highest level of integrated social engagement not only rise above others, but fare better in a crisis. Top tier social media strategies build advocacy. Successful social media use can take your fans from “I like you” to “I love you” to “I defend you.”

When looking at various engagement strategies that build loyalty we can boil them down to five basic categories, going from least effective to most: broadcast, reach, conversation-building, crowdsourcing and value-adding. What institutions need to aim for is steady, organic momentum facilitated by specific goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.

One of the biggest mistakes an institution can make is to have a social media crisis plan that is separate from its regular social media strategic plan. As you plot how to use social media to recruit students, retain alumni, cultivate donors, and enhance your institution’s market position, remember you are ultimately aiming to develop institutional advocates.

Here’s a mile-high view of the five integrated engagement strategies.

1. Broadcast: This is a one-way channel. You talk and people (hopefully) listen. You offer nothing to your fans but the information you want them to have.  Your strategy does not include fan involvement. There is nothing inherently wrong with using this strategy provided you acknowledge that there is no return.  Value in building loyalty: None

2. Reach: Your main focus is on numbers—building fans, followers, and likes. The ability for fans to upload or post on your Facebook page might be disabled, but you do allow comments on what you post. There are no specific calls to action for different stakeholder groups. You are not sure how much posting is too much or too little because you are not measuring engagement.
Value in building loyalty: Very little

3. Conversation-Building: This is the first of the five models with real potential for building loyalty and advocacy. You are hosting and participating in the conversations around your brand.  You are consistent in responding to comments and fan posts and determining when your participation will add value and further the conversation, not just thoughtlessly replying to everything people write. You are present, responding to questions and problems within a half-day. You are getting people talking about something—not a campaign, but something special about the campaign. An example would be the successful Blue Pig campaign at Emory.

If you want people to talk, you should have a social media posting policy up front somewhere–maybe in the “about” section or profile. The policy not only gives
you the stick to delete posts that don’t belong, it gives your community a sense of security knowing you are watching out for them. Value in building loyalty: Moderate.

4. Crowdsourcing and Feedback:  Building an empowered network that will help you build community.  This model uses the knowledge of the crowd to solve problems and tell your story. There are risks if you start to loosen the reins and allow multiple voices on your channels. But, if done right, there is also a higher reward. An invested community will go to bat for you.

You might use online forums or student blogs to connect people with answers.  The University of Tennessee uses featured student bloggers to tell stories about the college experience using multiple media. The strength here is diversity—many disciplines and student cultures are featured.

This model can also include campaigns designed to crowdsource names for new campus buildings, drive policy or organizational change and connect
people with like needs.   Value in building loyalty: High.

5. Value-Adding: Give nods, give gifts, solve problems. This model requires the highest time commitment and strategic content segmentation of any advocacy model. It also takes the longest to build but has the highest reward. You might be doing any of the following:

  • Give nods: Acknowledge new followers, have a “fan of the week” or thank fans by commenting on their posts. Make sure all these actions add value and are not automated or thoughtless. Many institutions employ various types of thank you videos that would also fit into this model—they can be personalized or general.
  • Give gifts: This tactic might include discounted or free registrations or prizes for contests on social media channels. It may involve an accumulation of reward points or just be for a one-time event. This model makes it very easy to track results and learn which channels are a better fit for gifting.
  • Solve problems: People have questions and needs—do you have answers? You may want to train a corps of student ambassadors to manage your online
    channels and answer questions from incoming students and parents. Or you could build an internal model for faculty and staff. This model requires an
    understanding of common solutions to common problems. Train your admins accordingly.

Value in building loyalty: Very high.

A social media strategy for crises isn’t just about how to handle digital communications once a crisis breaks. Solid loyalty strategies now will get you ready to face a crisis with a strong group of advocates on your side.

2 responses to “How to Build Social Media Advocates to Weather a Storm

  1. The strategies mentioned in this blog are awesome and should be of utmost help to firms opting for social media marketing techniques. I would recommend all to go through this blog at least once.

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