Social Media - at your own risk.

Social media is a valuable tool but should be used delicately. Think screwdriver, not sledgehammer. We’re connecting things, not smashing them to bits. (Though if you see what I see online, you may sometimes be tempted to smash.)

First, let’s look at a brief history of social media.

Social media sites began popping up in the late 90s and early 00s as a way for people to connect digitally and share ideas, messages, interests, and content.

They soon evolved from simple networking sites like MySpace, where you could connect and share virtually with friends, into media hubs like Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram where your posts could be seen by millions of people based on your shared interests.

It wasn’t long before the creators behind these websites and apps began looking for ways to improve and monetize them. There are two main ways for social media to do this. Either charge a fee to set up an account creating a subscription-based model, or sell audience targeting.

The problem with setting up a subscription model is that most, if not all, of these platforms, started off with free membership. Some platforms opted for a subscription model that would release additional features and options - which has its benefits. However, the most profitable avenue for social hubs is audience targeting, including advertising.  

In the digital advertising era, this was revolutionary and impactful. But now, for associations especially, you need to consider where your members should be accessing information, and who owns the user data.Depending on your age you may remember MySpace or early renditions of Facebook when they didn’t actually have ads. Now, however, I can’t scroll through my Facebook or Twitter feed without seeing sponsored posts, banner advertisements, or paid content. Social media has grown this aspect immensely over the past few decades. Because they have a massive audience and through data know what users want they are able to offer this reach as a paid service. This creates an opportunity for segmented target marketing at a fraction of the cost of traditional media - with measurable results!

To clarify, I’m not saying that organizations shouldn’t be advertising on social media. They should absolutely engage with their audiences online. What I’m saying is that associations need to be aware that your audience is providing behavioral information to social media algorithms. This means that their social media platform of choice can deliver better content to them. (How long do you think your members will last if they have access to free, catered content on a platform where they can work and play?)

How does this happen?

Well, the more time you spend on a social media platform, like say, Instagram, the more they understand your interests. This is all based on what you view and interact with on the platform. For example, I like looking at adorable baby animals (obviously), and I follow several accounts that feature these posts. Instagram takes this information and uses it to tailor my feed to satisfy my interests, showing me even more cute animals when I explore other pages.

Now, Instagram knows that I like animals and perhaps I even have one at home. They’ll add my information to the list of people they can advertise animal goods and services to. This is probably why I see so many ads for pet adoption agencies… hmm.

So, why is this relevant to associations? Let's say your members are looking for information and updates on a hot topic in your industry. Social media knows this based on their views, clicks, and online searches - they then deliver relevant, timely, interesting, multimedia information on that topic… removing the need for the member to check your association news page.

Social Media has one goal - to keep the user on their platform longer.


Let’s look at YouTube. They use your interests to suggest other videos, advertise content, and suggest channels to subscribe to. The autoplay feature keeps you glued to their platform (and subsequently viewing more ads) because they are delivering content you are interested in. Have you ever heard of the YouTube black hole? It usually involves watching pandas being completely adorable at midnight, and the history of the Ottoman Empire by 3:00 am. Don’t ask me how, it just happens.

My point is, much like the YouTube black hole, your members can get easily distracted by content that isn’t yours. Especially if it’s more engaging.

So, how do we fix this?

Well, like I told you in the title; social media is a tool. A powerful, and measurable tool. But, one that, for associations, should serve a very specific purpose. Drive traffic to your website and ultimately, your content.

Start by creating a strategy. You should already have one for your content, and if you do, great, let’s add social media to it. Decide which pieces of your content are the most enticing and put parts of those out into the world.

For example, let’s say you’ve created a great article or video for your members. They’re getting it directly via an e-newsletter, but how do you reach non-members and drive them to this content on your website?  

Well, you can create a teaser version of your content to post on your social media. Take the juiciest bit and post it on your Twitter, or Facebook. Like this one:


Then, make sure you add a direct link to the full content on your website so they can easily find it.

Now that they’re on your website, you can direct them to more of your content, see where they go, and track the data for future use. This way you have a better understanding of your audience, can see what they are interested in, and generate more relevant content in the future.

Discover more social media pitfalls and how to combat them in Chapter Five of our book.


Analog-to-Digital Cover
Chapter 5: Social Media: Post Content at Your Own Risk

It's not just about likes or views anymore.

Find out more about how to leverage the power of social media in the latest guide by Dan Stevens, "Moving Your Association From Analog to Digital - Creating Association Prosperity" - click here to get your free copy today.




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