What’s Your Message?

The job interviews have varied over the past few months since relocating to San Francisco. Some are by phone while others are full panels in the boardroom. They usually start with an HR rep and end with a private meeting with the Executive Director in his or her office. All along the way one question remains the same: “What is your social media strategy to help us raise funds?”

Given social media’s popularity in the press, especially in this area of America, I am eager to answer yet dread this question. I am conflicted because I know the answer and it is usually not what they are looking for in a candidate.

Expectations

Last summer, as the newly hired Senior Director of Communications at United Way in Boston, one of my first internal tasks was explaining and demystifying social media to the staff. The organization possessed several key users who had their own successful networks but I wanted everyone to put aside fears to better understand social media for what it is: a tool.

My presentation was called The Magic Bullet: How Social Media Will Bring About World Peace and End Global Warming. At the time people were still energized by the Arab Spring and looking for ways to unlock the secrets of Facebook and Twitter among others, and shake things up. I spent about 15 minutes, tongue fully in cheek, to make people comfortable, see the benefits of starting accounts, and justifying why you can tell your boss that your account is private and dos not include work colleagues.

After my talk, the majority of my colleagues bombarded me with questions. It was just the result I was aiming for: starting a discussion around their projects, news items, and ways to share information.

Reality

The reality of social media is that it does not solve all of your problems, regardless of what you may read. Great online campaigns that have a real impact (not one hit wonder viral successes) are born out of reputation, marketing, on the ground efforts, off-line relationship building, and above all a solid mission.

My beliefs are best summed up by this quote from a gentleman named Larry Sabato that appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle piece on the 2012 presidential campaign (Social Media Plays Bigger Role in Tampa, 8/28/12):

“Social media is a communications tool, no more, no less. The message matters far more, though. A winning message trumps a winning social media strategy.”

Unfortunately Larry’s message is 152 characters; so many people who should will never read it.

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