Working as a Communications Officer at a research and advocacy think tank, IEA Kenya, I always think of new ways to reach our audiences and to engage them in discussions. In using social media, IEA Kenya has benefited in many ways. We have been sharing our research with our followers, sending direct invites to different people including policy makers, seeing an increase in the number of visitors to the IEA Kenya website, answering pertinent questions asked by our followers and getting new ideas and suggestions on how to improve our work, and thinking about what new research or what events to consider doing for the public. Based on this experience, I have highlighted two basic rules of thumb as you start or continue in your social media activities:
Keep your audiences in mind: Different organizations have different missions and target audiences, and therefore different needs. What may work for audience “A” in organization “A”, may not necessarily work for audience “A” in organization “B”. You need to know the media that your audiences are using, so that your messaging is targeted. For instance, you do not have to be ‘big’ on Facebook, when you know that the people you target are mostly on Twitter and vice versa. IEA Kenya is bigger and more active on Twitter than Facebook, because most of our followers are avid Twitter users, keenly following what IEA Kenya posts on Twitter as well as comments made at public forums or even in media interviews.
Don’t sign up for everything: There are different social media sites that an organization can use. This list keeps growing by the day, so be cautious. You should not sign up for every new social media site that sprouts up before assessing whether you are reaching your target audiences with the social media channels you are already using. If you are new to social media and need a suggestion, I would recommend Twitter. It has been a game-changer and I cannot imagine how the communication space would have been without Twitter!
If you are skeptical about signing up for or using twitter, I have listed below a few reasons why you should reconsider your thoughts.
- Direct access to and support from influential organizations and individuals: Twitter allows you to follow influentials (people or organizations wielding immense influence) whose ideals match yours, and get them to buy into your idea. Who doesn’t want the WHO retweeting their research to their thousands of followers? Who doesn’t want CNN mentioning their research or a government minister making a reference to their tweet? These are rare opportunities to engage with the influentials and have a buy-in in your various research projects.
- Nurture relationships: The interactive nature of Twitter helps generate interpersonal relationships between the audience and the organization. Individuals tend to direct questions to organizations’ Twitter handles, expecting responses. Whereas some questions may not be relevant to your research area, directing your followers to the appropriate links or referring them to the relevant organizations, will create new online ambassadors for you. Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) for instance, use the hash-tag #TwitterBigStick (adapted from the big stick ideology), to critique poor service delivery and shame organizations offering poor services. This has the potential to severely dent an organization’s image, hardly a few hours after retweeting; a situation that is made worse if you have no online presence to set the record straight! #TwitterBigStick however has a more pleasant twin: #TwitterThumbsUp, which commends organizations and individuals for their good work.
- Free market research: Through online discussions, either in tweets, mentions or hash-tag dedicated live chats, twitter allows you to directly engage with your audiences. These discussions can help enhance a final research product, give you a new angle on a certain issue, help you know who is engaging with your research or even show you the level of interest and understanding your followers have on your research.
- Content is easy to produce: Twitter allows one to post a tweet of up to 140 characters. This could be a simple intro or a title of your research, accompanied by a link to the main research, a photo or even a video! That is all you need to pass across your information to your larger online audiences.
- Generates traffic to your website: Embedding Twitter to your website is a sure way to drive traffic to your website, as is adding hyperlinks of your research to your tweets. By clicking on the links, your audiences will be interested to get more information and to download your publications. IEA-Kenya for instance, tracks its web visits using Google Analytics, and we are able to calculate the visits that come as a result of social media referral, a percentage which has been growing consistently.
- Doesn’t consume too much time: You don’t necessarily have to spend too much time managing social media. There are various social media management applications like hootsuite, tweetdeck etc, that will help manage your site or even schedule tweets, even when you are away.
Twitter is ABSOLUTELY FREE! Many times, people naturally tend to shy away from products due to costs. A social media cost and benefit analysis however will show that not only is it cheap, but it gives way beyond its value. Getting retweets, mentions and shares amongst 100 followers, who have thousands of followers strewn across the globe is no mean feat. This may cost millions of dollars in terms of advertising value equivalent (AVE), but Twitter (and social media) does this for FREE!
Please feel free to add your own experiences on using Twitter or other social media in the comments section of the blog.
This post has been produced as part of the Think Tank Initiative’s Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) programme. However, these are the author’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of TTI. You can find all ongoing outputs related to this project via the PEC mini-site on Research to Action. To get updates from the PEC programme and be part of the discussion sign-up to our RSS or email updates. You can also follow our progress via Twitter using the following hashtag #ttipec
Image Courtesy of Bridgespan.org