When I became VP of Communications for AIGA Los Angeles in November of 2008, I started a social media program to help gain exposure for the non-profit organization. AIGA is the professional association of design with chapters all around the nation, and the largest graphic design organization on the planet. Locally, we needed to increase exposure and membership to continue to support the design community of Los Angeles.
Originally, we were using a traditional PR model in spreading the word about our events (we were holding between 1 to 4 design-related events a month). For six months, I was posting events on design directories, local event calendars and distributing press releases to the wire. This was working fine, especially when we had large events, but between activities, there were few ways to reach out. So I decided to start developing a social media plan.
Many of our new prospective members were design students and emerging graduates who were young and in their early 20s so it was imperative that we had a presence on Facebook. Facebook was great, but it was slow to grow. I started with creating a Group, and then a couple months later with over 300 members, converted it to a Fan Page. I converted it mainly because of the way messages were sent. Through Groups, a mass-mailing message was sent to a member’s inbox, whereas Fan Pages had “updates,” which to me was less obtrusive. I received many click-thrus from those updates and was able to quickly grow the Fan base. As of the last Fan Page user interface revision, I don’t think you can send Fan Updates any longer. Establishing a Page was a great way to combine feeds from the Flickr image group and YouTube videos, but there was not much interaction.
However, exposure increased and can be easily tracked through Facebook’s analytics, called “Insights”. With “Insights,” one can track activity, the growing number of fans, and a few demographics of your Fan base.
On the professional side, I also set up an AIGA/LA LinkedIn group (529 members), and fed our Web site feed, and news feeds from other design Web sites into the group to keep content fresh. LinkedIn isn’t really built for much interaction, so there’s very little activity on it as well.
The Twitter account was a greatest experiment in growing the AIGA design community. There seemed to be a lot more interaction on Twitter… and it gave people a way to ask questions of the chapter, comment about an event, and discuss design topics. I used the Twitter account to Tweet Web site editorial and articles, Tweet events and specials, and start conversations with Los Angeles-area designers. Within 16 months, we accrued a follower base of over 4,000 whereas our Facebook group had only accrued 1,000 followers.
Most of our click-throughs to our Web site (tracked with budURL and bit.ly) were coming from Twitter, and I was able to use Twitter Search to monitor conversations about events which gave us feedback helped us adjust for future events. Membership numbers inched back up. And we had high ranks on our Twitter account, showing how influential the account was for our followers.
I set up the Facebook page to read the site feed to lessen the amount of time needed to update the page (most of the updates on the Facebook Fan Page come directly from aigalosangeles.org). But in order to keep future young designers and student members engaged, there’ll have to be more customized posts and activity on the Facebook page because more and more teens are spending their time on Facebook and less time on Twitter. Per a study done in 2010, there seems to be a widening divide between both networks.
There are so many social networking sites and tools to use (and there’ll be more in the future), and a social media can utilize these tools to generate much traffic and raise a company’s reputation. Be sure to choose the networks where your demographic is to get the most return on your investment.
Managing conversations and the “community” you form takes lots of time and idea generation to keep communications fresh. What helped the AIGA plan was our chapter’s blend of workshops, events, articles and conversation. If there’s a lot going on with your company, you will have enough content to communicate.
What I’ve learned to keep the fan base growing
- Stop saying it over and over. I notice companies saying the same thing over and over, perhaps because it’s easiest that way… sort of like a television commercial. That’s when I become numb to the message. Change your message every time you post or Tweet, so you don’t bombard your Fan base with the same message over and over. Repeated messages will just create annoyance.
- Same content? Be creative. If you have to repeat your message or link to generate ticket sales, be sure to be creative about it. For a speaking event with Michael Osborne (who is known for wine label design), I used combinations of the terms “wine” and “design” for a few days but wrote the pitch in different ways. After a week or so, click-throughs and ticket sales dropped. Once I mentioned that he design a few labels for Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniels, click-throughs and ticket sales picked up. it’s a great PR technique: same message, different angle.
- Don’t talk outwards, but invite conversation. Watch your Twitter feed, Facebook activity, and LinkedIn discussions, and talk back. Compliment, share and discuss topics outside what you’re promoting in order to create personality. People want to talk to other people, not company ads.
- Keep interacting, and community will come. Don’t put in a week’s worth of effort and then leave. Periodically (at least three days a week) check-in and manage the community and make sure people are happy.
- The tools will keep changing. You will have to change with them. Within a year, Facebook changed it’s user interface on groups and Fan Pages twice and I had to modify how I communicated. That’s not a problem, because if you stay flexible to change, then the organization as a whole shows flexibility. Remember, when you’re communicating on behalf of a larger entity, you are their representative and voice. Be loyal to the fans, and the fans will be loyal to the organization.