Many NGOs in Uganda have finally gotten the social media message: you’re either using social media for exposure, or you don’t exist in the new media. As always, many plunge in, including myself, without realizing just what we’re getting into at first. It is through a process of trial and error that we eventually get somewhere if at all. As always with digital media, there is an abundance of tools, and people find it difficult to choose which tools to use for their message. To add to the complication, each tool requires a learning curve whose duration depends on the complexity of the tool itself.
In order to create a significant digital presence one needs a social media strategy. It should be noted, however, that it is just as much a struggle to get people engaged in your message on social media as it is in traditional media.
For starters, one needs to identify the following:
What is your message?
Target group: Who are your donors?
Who are your supporters?
Who are your audience?
Geographical area: this will determine the types of tools depending on their popularity in the area you are working in.
What type of activities do you want your target audience to engage in? [activists? Campaigns? Demonstrations? Information dissemination? ]
Choosing your tools:
Do not begin with choosing paid services before you understand its financial implication. The best tools are available for free. At minimum, you will need a Twitter account, a youtube channel, a facebook account, a blog that might work as a website also, or you can keep the two separate depending on your technical know-how.
Branding helps in identifying you on any networking site. Create a brand that gives you a different and unique look and feel, including logo design, background, colors etc.
Establish a username (facebook.com/username). On your website make sure you have all your accounts available with the click of a mouse. This facilitates joining your facebook, twitter or other accounts.
Do not underestimate the power of blogging. You must have a blog that is also branded unless your blog serves as your primary website.
What to embrace and what to avoid
Be visual as much as you can. With people’s short attention span online one needs to be more visual and present ideas visually.
Provide mixed media. Tell stories and in particular use impact stories that are short and concise. Use event photos, video, activities. Create a youtube channel and upload videos of events and activities. Engage people by asking them to upload videos of their own work as well.
Avoid truisms and canned, automated responses. Sincerity comes through when you engage people.
Do not ignore text either: while visual data is important, provide access to in depth articles, reports, news and info for those more inclined to read.
Provide real time actions.
Use the tools that appeal to your demographic group. Use digital media for younger generations and other media types such as print and publication for non-digital types.
Use podcasts and/or live streaming to engage more people in real time. Eg, livestream or ustream.com
Build apps and/or widgets if you can or if you can commission someone to do it for you.
Connect your site to mobile phones.
Engage people in contests with nominal awards if you cannot afford bigger ones.
Connect all your media to each other if they can be connected: for example connect Twitter with Facebook and connect both to your website.
Encourage discussion and debate on Twitter and on your Facebook group page.
Once you use Twitter, tweet and tweet often. No less than twice a day. Tweets should include news items you find relevant and/or activities your organizations created, as well as generating discussion.
If you have different campaigns, create different logos for different campaigns and encourage people to join the campaign of their interest. There are many free logo designs online if you cannot create one yourself.
On your blog, create a blogroll. This encourages people to connect to you and to add you to their own blogroll.
Add a wiki for events you are organizing and ask people to help you build an for that upcoming event.
Each of those items mentioned above could have their own strategy. For now, this represents a good start.