The original language is German.
Digital social networks are among the fastest growing internet communication platforms. In the area of education, such networks often arise out of a need for both professionalisation and a solution to work-related problems. Social networks can support transfer of knowledge and mean a gain in competence. In particular in the areas of schooling, higher education and business, the establishment of learning networks for the generation of knowledge and continuing education can be observed. In these areas, digital social networks function as professional communities. But what, in relation to learning, makes social media so interesting?
It is, above all, so-called weak ties that can lead to advantages in terms of information. Weak ties, in other words contacts that reside beyond one’s own personal network, can open doors to new information, knowledge discourses, people, job offers or collaboration partners. Applied to digital social networks, this means that precisely via these kinds of relationships access to new information is obtained. Mark Granovetter coined the term “the strength of weak ties” back in 1973 to describe this phenomenon.
Strategic integration of social media
A significant challenge in the worthwhile use of social media channels consists in their strategic and target-oriented integration (for more on this see Joachim Sucker’s blog entry “Soziale Medien sind kein Selbstzweck” [“Social media is not an end in itself”]: /de/node/50909)
At present, when organisations use social media, the use is often (still) unstrategic and beset by problems. This can be seen in the fact that 84% of companies surveyed claimed that they encountered problems and obstacles when using social media. Above all data protection (49.7%), lack of know-how (28.5%), a lack of participation and awareness among the target group (25.6%), as well as flawed implementation (24.4%) pose difficulties for the institutions (cf. BVDW 2014, p. 25ff).
This makes the implementation of a digital strategy which impacts all areas of the organisation an urgent priority. As part of the digital strategy, we consider the development and implementation of digital network activities in the context of social media use to signify strategic integration in the organisation.
The key elements in detail
The social media strategy introduced here gathers various approaches that will be explained and substantiated in the following (cf. among others Hilker 2016, SEOKRATIE 2015, Weck 2013). Each element follows on logically from the preceding one in terms of the form its content takes. This logical structure should also be taken into consideration and/or checked in the case of existing and established practices. Each element is underpinned by questions, the successful answering of which leads on to the next element.
1. Status Quo
The first step is to find out which social media activities are already employed. An analysis should be carried out to get a picture of the current status of one’s organisation in the area of social media. Useful questions as part of this process might be:
What forms, up to now, has our social media use taken?
Which formats do we already use? Which do we use actively?
What aims have we already formulated concerning the use of social media?
Who, up to now, has been responsible for implementation?
How many resources are required for implementation in its current form?
How do we create our content?
How satisfied are we with the current implementation?
The next and most important step on the path to strategic implementation is the formulation of aims that are to be realised via social media. One important question is the following: “What does the organisation want to achieve via the implementation of social media? To attract and retain new customers, or rather new staff?” Clearly formulated goals are the first step towards a systematic plan and implementation.
3. Target group
The target group depends on the aims that have been established. In terms of marketing one’s own continuing education offers, potential customers should be addressed as well as multipliers who can pass on the education offers within their own networks. In the next step the organisation should clarify the question of its target group:
Which target group do we want to reach with our social media activities?
On which platforms is this target group active?
What characterises this target group’s user behaviour?
The decisive factor here is on which social media platform the target group is already active. The following rule applies: Go to where your target group is active. The attempt to direct your target group to a platform of your own that has been specially devised for this purpose is both energy- and time-consuming.
Only when it is clear which social media platform the target group uses, and the decision has been made to commit to a platform, does the question arise as to what content the organisation plans to disseminate via this social media channel. Here two particular points should be considered:
What social media content do we wish to disseminate via our social media channels?
What kind of social media content is compatible with which social media channel?
In this step, clarification is needed as to exactly what information should be disseminated and whether this information is suited to the target group’s specific social media channel. If the target group, for example, uses mainly Instagram, the education institution should undoubtedly promote its content via attractive photographs, because Instagram is a platform which caters primarily to visual images. If, on the other hand, the target group is primarily active on YouTube, then videos would be the most suitable means of disseminating information.
Aims, target group, platform and content all need to be defined before exact structure and implementation can be dealt with. The following questions, in particular, should be taken into consideration:
What resources does the organisation have to make available for the implementation of social media activities?
Is it possible to make one person primarily responsible for implementation?
How much time can this person invest in social media in a given week?
What content can be provided by other project teams?
How does the institution deal with criticism and crises?
And how can it be ensured that all participants understand and have control over the implementation processes?
Especially at the outset of these social media activities, all those involved will have to become familiar with what is required. In these first weeks having room to experiment, having sufficient time, and learning to deal with mistakes all play a role that should not be underestimated. In this phase, for example, guidelines for all participating stakeholders or a social media editorial plan can be of great benefit.
As a further step it can be worthwhile to find out what the social media channels of other organisations look like. As the saying goes, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are already countless social media profiles from which tips and tricks can be picked up.
How does the competition go about such business?
What do comparable stakeholders already do well on their social media platforms?
What mistakes do we want to avoid repeating at all costs?
And what examples serve as models for our own implementation to follow?
The last major element of strategic social media activities is controlling. Controlling concepts should be used to ensure that one’s own implementation of social media can be measured, evaluated and further developed. To this end it is important to formulate aims in such a way that they can actually be measured, because only when the achievement of aims is checked can the implementation of social media activities be evaluated. This makes it possible to derive, for example, arguments for an expansion of activities, potential for optimisation or success factors for implementation.
And now? Keep going!
(All resources are in German)
In issue number 10 of our publication “weiter gelernt” – “Digital Netzwerken: Zum Aufbau einer Social-Media-Strategie” [“Digital Networks: Establishing a social media strategy”] you can find additional information as well as various practise-based examples relating to the respective elements. The free download is available here: http://weitergelernt.de/heft-digital-netzwerken/.
As of April 2018, the second “EBmooc – Digitale Werkzeuge für ErwachsenenbildnerInnen” [“EBmooc – Digital Tools for Adult Educators”] offers a selection of web and software tools as well as an assessment of opportunities and limits regarding the implementation of social media. Registration is already possible here: https://erwachsenenbildung.at/ebmooc/.
The way that adult and continuing education institutions deal with the challenges of digitalisation at the organisational level is also a theme of the “weiter gelernt - Digitalisierung gestalten” [“Structuring digitalisation”] workshops that begin this year. You can find information on areas of focus, dates and registration here: http://weitergelernt.de/digitalisierung-gestalten/.
Sources and further reading
(All resources are in German)
Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) (2014): Social Media in Unternehmen – Studienergebnisse [Social media in companies – study results]. URL: https://www.bvdw.org/themen/publikationen/detail/artikel/bvdw-studie-soc... (Last updated: 12.02.2018)
Granovetter, M. (1973): The Strength of Weak Ties. In: American Journal of Sociology, Volume 78, p. 1360-1380.
Hilker C. (2016): Leitfaden für Ihre Social-Media-Strategie [Guidelines for your social media strategy]. URL: http://socialmedia-fuer-unternehmer.de/leitfaden-fuer-ihre-social-media-... (Last updated: 12.02.2018)
SEOKRATIE (2015): 7 Schritte zu einer erfolgreichen Social-Media-Strategie [7 steps for a successful social media strategy] . URL: https://www.seokratie.de/social-media-strategie/ (Last updated: 12.02.2018)
Weck A. (2013): Social-Media-Strategie: In 5 Schritten zum perfekten Konzept [Social media strategy: the perfect concept in 5 steps]. URL: http://t3n.de/news/social-media-strategie-muster-504445/ (Last updated: 12.02.2018)