“Oh, you’ve got to use…”

It’s easy to feel like you aren’t sure what to do, where or how, on social media. After all, the life cycle within the social media sphere can feel as if it’s shorter than that of a fruit fly. New lingo. New sites. New companies. New capabilities.

So, if your organization is mulling its social media strategy — putting one in place or changing the one you’ve got — keep this in mind:

There’s no one-size-fits-all set of rules.

The way to connect with audiences you want to start and maintain conversations with is to make sure your strategy matches the organization’s own style and culture. Social media is, ultimately, about relationships and brand. To be effective and authentic, your social media tactics must work in concert with those.

To my mind, there’s no one channel that all organizations have to use or approach they must take, especially if your group is a nonprofit or is focused on building communities. By definition, those are as unique as the people in them.

The one thing you must do? Customize your social media outreach.

By itself, that won’t guarantee success, which takes time, diligence and responsiveness that lead to trust and build credibility. To do that, you need to interact and converse with the audiences you want to reach.

But how your organization does that through social media can, and should, be framed to suit your organization’s goals for outreach. What does it want to do? Reach funders? Find clients? Build public or industry awareness?

Two examples

Consider two organizations I’ve conjured for this blog post: a fairly traditional law firm and a nonprofit focused on community development. Their audiences and messages would be very different, as would their cultures and brands.

Case # 1

For the law firm it’s better form to have someone else tout its work, social media marketer David Heyman notes, lest the firm look like an “ambulance chaser.” A Face Book page might not be one of the social media tools it would employ. Perhaps, instead, a blog would be the way to go. That would let the firm talk about fresh trends, or do’s and dont’s within scenarios that potential clients might need counsel in navigating, Heyman suggested.

The firm, of course, wouldn’t talk about clients or any specific cases in its posts. But, by using social media, it could show its expertise in action and through examples, enabling its authority to spread much more widely than if it were published in a printed newsletter. And the firm’s followers, who would’ve opted in to receive the blog or e-newsletter, would increase the impact by sharing it with some of their followers.

Lawyers do have constraints and rules for conduct, notes lawyer, blogger, podcaster, presenter and digital media strategist Whitney Hoffman. So, they need to be sensitive to concerns such as those that relate to promoting their business or attracting clients, Hoffman says.

Still, there are smart, tailored ways they can tap into the power of social media to increase their public profile and credibility and, indirectly, their business. (Thanks to Marjorie Clayman and Shonali Burke for helping me find the experts I quoted in this example!)

Case #2

The nonprofit whose work centers on community development, on the other hand, would seek to engage in active conversations with the audience it serves. It would use social media in much more direct ways to reach current and potential clients, as well as many others.

This group would want media, bloggers and the public to know about its work and its outcomes. Using social media tools successfully would drive more viewers to its website. It could also lead to more interviews or invitations for guest posts on related websites. The nonprofit group would also want to spread evidence of its expertise so it could increase opportunities to present at conferences or appear on panels.

Like all nonprofits, this one would need to raise funds. It probably believes that existing funders know all about the nonprofit’s programs and its track record. But that’s usually not the case. Funders need to see and hear, often, how a nonprofit they are supporting is using the money. That not only lets them know the money is being used well, it gives them some recognition, too, through association.

By putting those stories out through social media channels, it informs potential funders, too. The nonprofit’s social media outreach should make it easier for it to find more resources, from grants to respected board members to volunteers.

Goals for outreach shape the social media tools

It might be that, in setting up or refining a social media strategy, you bring in a consultant or adviser with that expertise. But even if you take that path, it’s a good idea, first, to think through the outcomes you want to achieve.

Once you are clear on what you want social media to help your organization do, it will be easier to sort out which tools and ways to do that. And then you can assess new ones, strategically, in terms of whether they’d let you meet the goals you’ve already set for a smart, customized approach to social media.

It makes keeping up with the latest social media developments less frantic because you don’t have to adopt every new tool. What you choose to add should make sense in terms of your brand and culture. It depends on what you want to say and achieve, and who you want to reach, why.

So, that’s my opinion. What do you think?