Digital Engagement: 12 DOs and DON’Ts for Rookies (& Others)

Summary: Effective digital engagement is a never-ending challenge, and it's especially difficult for social media rookies. This post describes 12 practices - 7 DOs, 5 DON'Ts - that individuals and organizations trying to optimize their own approach to digital engagement should and should not employ. Additional suggestions and questions are welcome. 

Digital engagement is a daunting proposition for many individuals and organizations. Even if they’ve recognized that it’s important for the achievement of their goals and objectives, they still feel overwhelmed by the time and information management challenges, not to mention the dizzying and seemingly endless range of platforms on which they could become active. The exhortations and activities of so-called social media experts and enthusiasts don’t help. On the one hand, they make it look and sound so easy… On the other, it all seems like too much.

I personally went “all in” on social and digital technologies in May of 2009, when I founded the LinkedIn group that evolved into today’s Denovati Digital Network. Over the past four years I have maintained a high level of digital engagement on a variety of platforms, and I can attest to how challenging it is. There’s no doubt it’s rewarding, and my commitment remains strong, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s often a grind and can sometimes be overwhelming.  The activity is relentless, the overall volume only increases, and change is constant (and often surprising and frustrating). And that’s coming from someone with high levels of knowledge and experience! From my work with clients, I know how much more challenging all of this is to social media rookies and people who can’t make the commitment we do to creation and maintenance.

We’re constantly experimenting with and recalibrating our digital engagement to determine the best mix of platforms, volume of activity, frequency and scheduling of activity, etc. (see this post for a description of our recent continuous improvement efforts). It’s as much art as science, and there are no silver bullets or easy answers (anyone who tells you there are is not being honest). That said, there are certain best – and worst – practices that individuals and organizations trying to optimize their own approach to digital engagement should and should not employ.

The DOs and DON’Ts below build on the ideas I shared a couple of months ago in Social Media Engagement: 9 Reasons Why Less is More.

Digital Engagement DOs and DON’Ts

DO: Identify a Home Base. For most individuals, the ideal home base is likely to be LinkedIn, but a blog site is also a viable option if you’re planning to blog on a regular basis (for many, that’s a big IF). For organizations, the most logical home base is a website (ideally with an active blog). Home base serves two main purposes: it’s the primary digital location you need to keep current, and it’s the hub for all of your digital engagement activities.

DO: Create a Digital Network. Your digital network includes both home base and your satellite sites (e.g., Twitter, G+). Be sure to define how each platform will be used, including types of content, frequency of posting, content flows, etc. (at least at a high level). This network can be represented by an image that includes all your digital platforms and the relationships among them. You can vary the size of icons representing different platforms to reflect their relative importance and activity. The Denovati Digital Network provides an example of what you can do. You don’t have to make this public like we do, but you should certainly have a strong internal sense of how you plan to engage.

DO: Execute a Digital Land Grab. If you think you may want to establish a presence on a particular platform, set up a basic account so you can have the account name/url you’ll want to use. The longer you wait, the bigger the chance that it will be gone. For example, we have set up accounts, albeit with a minimal presence, on platforms like YouTube and Instagram… just in case.

Related: Creating a Brand Identity in the Digital Era: 13 Key Factors

DON’T: Insist on Measurable ROI (initially). Particularly in the beginning, it’s virtually impossible to determine what kind of return you’re going to get on the investments you make in digital engagement. In addition, much of the value of those investments is not directly measurable because it’s more long-term and strategic (e.g., brand and reputation building) than short-term and tactical. Even from a short-term perspective, expecting a measurable return in terms of increased customers and revenue is probably unrealistic, especially if you’re not a consumer-oriented firm. More realistic metrics are numbers of followers and levels of engagement.

DO: Assign Specific Responsibilities and Allocate Time for Engagement. Social media doesn’t manage itself. If you think a platform is worth having a presence on, you must set that platform up properly and ensure you allocate the right resources and time for ongoing engagement, management, and maintenance. The old expression fits well here: failing to plan is planning to fail… And the "right resources" doesn't mean "everyone." It's much better to to assign specific responsibilities to specific individuals who have both the time and skills to engage effectively on an ongoing basis.

DON’T: Over-Engineer Your Engagement (esp. initially). Although planning is important, you don’t have to go overboard. Yes, content schedules and inventories are important, but not for everyone, all platforms, or all kinds of sharing. Social media management systems and processes can evolve over time for those aspects of digital engagement for which the extra investment of time and effort is warranted. For example, we now have a fairly structured schedule by which we share content via Twitter and email, as well as inventories for managing our Pinterest content and SMART Blog posts. But we didn’t start out being that structured, and our systems developed based on what we learned did/did not work for us and our stakeholders. And we continue to learn and refine our digital engagement, so our systems have to stay fluid...

DON'T: Just Think about Talking; Focus on Listening. The term engagement implies dialogue, conversation, give-and-take. Too often, however, people focus on what they're going to say rather than what they could hear. Social and digital channels, however, offer tremendous listening opportunities - and for many of us, there is much greater value in what we can receive than in what we may offer. Your digital engagement strategies should involve both.

DO: Repurpose and Reshare Content (to a point). Most organizations in particular are already content rich, which makes it relatively easy to find items – both simple and complex – to share. Rather than trying to craft new, social media specific content, think about how you can carve up and repurpose material you already have across multiple channels. Just be careful not to overshare, or share across platforms in a way that could be perceived as spammy (see Social Media Engagement: 9 Reasons Why Less is More for a more detailed treatment of this issue).

DO: Conduct Engagement Experiments. You may want to experiment with different platforms or platform features to get a feel for how you would use them, how much effort they take, and whether it would be a good place to engage over the longer term. Our initial forays into both Pinterest and Tumblr, for example, were experiments. Pinterest has been a great success – Tumblr, not so much. But we never would have known if we didn’t try.

DO: Increase Investments Based on Positive Results. If you start to get traction on a platform (e.g., increase in followers, quick engagement), then you can ramp up your efforts by sharing more content and/or sharing more frequently. This is exactly what we’ve done on Pinterest.

DON’T: Be Afraid to Cut Your Losses. Give your engagement experiments enough time to generate results, but don’t hesitate to stop if your efforts aren’t producing a return. If the timing’s just not right, you may want to try again later. The same holds true for platforms that were once active but seem to have lost their luster. For us, in addition to cutting our losses on Tumblr, we have also scaled back our Facebook presence and engagement significantly.

DON’T: Create Digital Ghost Towns. When you deem that a platform isn’t worth ongoing investment of time and resources, don’t just abandon the site. Tidy up your profile and hang a “cyber sign” that explains the current status and redirects visitors as appropriate.  Here’s how we handled that on Tumblr.

If you have additional recommendations to share and/or specific questions we can address, I’d love to hear from you.

Originally Posted on the Denovati SMART Blog

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