Five Elements of a Viral Social Media Communications Plan

by Bob Maples

Bob Maples

Bob Maples

Every economic development organization faces unique challenges and opportunities as it seeks to harness its full potential.  The EDO communications team should be constantly seeking creative, flexible programs that leverage their assets and opportunities to increase the likelihood of success.   Every EDO is different, ranging from start-up efforts in small to large organizations, to very progressive regional and state-level groups, and need to develop a comprehensive suite of programs to guide them toward solutions that respond to their needs.  Every EDO communications plan should incorporate these five key elements:

One:  Strategic Planning and Analysis

I believe a strategic communications plan should not collect dust on a shelf.  It should be an economic development roadmap with identified goals and objectives specific to social media and traditional communications.  These goals should focus EDO outreach efforts and lead to measurable outcomes needed to build buy-in, support, or make a difference.  Depending on an EDO’s needs, a strategic communications planning process may involve a community assessment; appreciative inquiry; stakeholder interviews; group discussions; cluster analysis; targeted industry identification; capital funding requirements; workforce development and education; and other relevant assessments.

 When developing goals, EDO leaders should identify three to five objectives, such as driving legislative change; raising visibility of efforts with the community or with local business leaders; creating buy-in from specific audiences; or raising money or awareness for sustainability of the region’s efforts.  In setting goals, it is important to include short-term and long-term goals, specific audiences, and tactics with milestones to measure success.

 Two:  Target Audience Analysis

Economic development organizations must understand the assets of their state, region, city or community and focus their recruitment efforts in ways that maximize the assets and minimize the challenges.  By identifying targets, an EDO can be much more efficient in its marketing programs and is better positioned to sell to its strengths.

 During this step, EDO leaders must identify and prioritize audiences.  Leadership must work to understand their audiences’ concerns, identify obstacles, and understand the core characteristics that make up each audience segment.  No two audiences will have the same needs in terms of communications, so understanding who they are, how you may best reach them, and the obstacles that may arise are essential.

Three:  Core Messages

One key to successful communications and social media is delivering a powerful and relevant message.  This is true whether the social media activities are designed to sell a product – your community – or recover from a crisis.  Tactics and strategies exist to bring messages to life.  Messages should be audience-specific and answer the all important question, “What’s in it for me?”  The messages should provide a sense of urgency, be simple, use data wisely, and have a clear call to action.  The call to action is simply what you want the audience to do.

Four:  Strategies and Tactics

Identifying and developing strategies and tactics are a natural progression of the social media and communications planning process.  Leadership group strategies and tactics constitute the plan to achieve a particular goal (strategy) and social media/communications vehicles or activities that will be used to disseminate messages (tactics).

The communications team should look to combine traditional and social media tactics that have proven to be successful in other community initiatives with new ideas that may be effective based on having clear messages and a strong call to action.  Public relations strategies may include garnering more press attention for the initiative.  The tactics could include news releases, news conferences, briefings for reporters, op-ed placements in the newspapers, speaking at local events, or other activities as fit for the EDO.  Similarly, if the strategy is to better understand citizens’ and businesses’ concerns, the tactics may include research, briefings, meetings, etc.

Crafting a successful social media campaign is more difficult than it looks.  Using social media in your campaign is the most effective method of combining all of the powerful Internet resources available today such as search engines, social networks, local directories, e-mail marketing, blog posts, and SEO news releases are just but a few examples of how information on a community and its businesses can be exponentially propagated locally and globally at the click of a button – increasing awareness of the community in achieving objectives through self-replicating viral processes.

 Five:  Measure Overall Impact

 It’s no secret that board members and leadership are expecting more quantifiable results and ROI from the resources spent on the campaign.  By the time you are done, you should have a set of metrics to share with the leadership team.  What you measure depends on your initial strategy.  If the goal was to acquire and retain businesses in your community, you will need to use metrics from the economic development team to measure results.

By monitoring the campaign you can react in real time.  You can use a social intelligence solution to accurately monitor keywords related to your campaign and observe what sort of sentiment lift your brand or campaign is experiencing, and what the emerging themes and conversations are.  Set up notifications to detect any unusual changes, allowing the leadership team to make educated decisions in real time.

However you choose to measure, it’s important that you identify areas for campaign improvement based on feedback.  This enables you to identify opportunities to address new target audiences and improve your strategy.

The Takeaway

Traditional communications and social media – creating, publishing and promoting helpful content for your target audiences can earn your community incredible reach, influence and revenue.  Social media and viral marketing tactics are making it easier for your targeted audiences to find information for themselves.  By publishing content that your audiences need and value, you can attract everyone you need to reach – local businesses, prospects, journalists, influencers, bloggers and your citizens.

Crafting a successful viral social media campaign is not easy and requires a commitment.  Once done, it becomes the roadmap to successfully achieving your goals and objectives.  Call or e-mail us if you need help.  It is why we formed Civic 180 – to help communities and cities grow in the right direction.