Social media has become a vital tool for Cooperative Extension program teams to connect with existing and potential partners and stakeholders about programmatic efforts. Multiple social media platforms have been developed over the last twenty years, leading to questions regarding which platforms are best suited for outreach. Not only does a successful social media plan require selecting the appropriate platform(s), but it also requires using messaging in a manner that keeps a program’s mission relevant and engages social media users. This publication explores methods program managers can utilize to select appropriate social media platforms based on a program’s objectives and target audience and shares strategies for implementation.
Choosing Social Media Platforms
Traditional marketing (e.g., television and radio) is a one-way communication channel, while social media has allowed marketing to evolve into two-way communication channels. Several current social media platforms (as noted by the cited sources), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Google+, can open the door to a larger audience. The objectives set for a Cooperative Extension program’s presence on social media help determine which platform(s) are best suited to the program’s marketing needs and the demographic of the target audience. Social media can be broken down into four categories based on characteristics.1
- Relationships: places a focus on creating individual profiles and the ability to send messages to other users (e.g., Facebook and LinkedIn).
- Self-media: allows for profile creation and capacity to create specific communication channels (e.g., Twitter).1
- Creative Outlet Platforms: provides opportunities to be creative with content for engagement (e.g., YouTube and Instagram). 1
- Collaboration: provides opportunities for creative content and allows customers to engage with questions, receive advice, or find recent news on the program (e.g., Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube).1
The next step is to choose the best way to engage with the target audience(s) by utilizing platform aspects. The type of engaging content created can have an impact on increasing stakeholders and public interest and future social media plans. There are ten dimensions of engagement, and each platform supports different dimensions.1
- Entertainment: Snapchat and YouTube are seen as the most entertaining platforms, with Twitter and Google+ being the lowest in this dimension.
- Negative Emotions: Twitter and Facebook content can leave users with the most negative emotions; therefore, messaging and the information shared should be carefully considered.
- Pastime (done for enjoyment): Instagram and Facebook are most often used for pastime, which may provide programs an opportunity for content to be seen more often by potential consumers.
- Stimulation: Pinterest gives users the most stimulation and can be a good platform to create enthusiasm for services.
- Identification: Facebook evokes more empathetic emotions and fosters connections between users.1
- Practical Use: Pinterest is seen as the platform best for practical use, where users can find useful and reliable information on solving problems.1
- Social Interaction: Facebook and Snapchat are the most used platforms for social interaction; these platforms could be best suited for users to share content widely.
- Innovation: No platform stands out as a way for users to feel ahead of others on trends or to receive respect from others.1
- Empowerment: No platform seems to give users a feeling of empowerment (and empowerment of program participants may be an outcome that helps a program stand out).
- Topicality: All platforms give users the sense of quick and up-to-date information, but Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn tend to be the top-performing platforms in this dimension.
Overall, program managers should plan ahead to evaluate and identify the appropriate platform(s) based on their program objectives, the type of content they intend to create, the informational focus, and the level of engagement they want to achieve with their audience.
Implementing Social Media Marketing
Once a social media platform has been chosen, developing and implementing strategies to make a program’s presence successful is key to driving public interest and audience engagement. Parsons and Lepkowska-White2 broke down social media marketing into four dimensions: messaging and projecting, monitoring, assessing, and responding.
- Messaging and Projecting: interactivity between the program and the audience is received more positively than marketer-generated content. Creating content with a conversational and personal tone over ‘hard selling’ content can increase ‘social currency’.2 Determining the frequency of posting that keeps messaging relevant but not overdone can help avoid deterring audience members from continuing to follow the program’s account.2
- Monitoring: audience responses and reviews to content should be kept track of, and returning communication to those audience members should be done in a timely manner. Observing comments and engagement on posts can help program managers understand how content resonates, what type of content is successful, and how to further increase public interest.2
- Assessing: information derived from the social media activity on an account should be analyzed. Most social media platforms have in-house analytics for this purpose, but there are third-party sites that can be utilized to explain insights (e.g., Hootsuite).
- Responding: program managers should act externally and internally when responding to users. Externally, they can respond directly to public and private messages. Internally, they can change services or marketing strategies based on audience feedback.2 This will show audience members their voices are respected, which could, in turn, increase word-of-mouth references and public interest and enhance audience engagement.
In conclusion, selecting the right social media platform is just as important as applying appropriate marketing strategies to reach audiences in an engaging way without coming across as too “sell-heavy” or non-responsive. Finding the right platform and setting objectives takes time and analysis, but doing so can increase public interest and reach.
- Voorveld HAM, van Noort G, Muntinga DG, Bronner F. Engagement with social media and social media advertising: the differentiating role of platform type. Journal of Advertising. 2018 Feb;47(1):38–54. doi:10.1080/00913367.2017.1405754. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00913367.2017.1405754.
- Parsons AL, Lepkowska-White E. Social media marketing management: a conceptual framework. Journal of Internet Commerce. 2018 Feb;17(2):81–95. doi:10.1080/15332861.2018.1433910.
Burkett K, Maxwell C, Herdon C. 10 tips for farm social media. Clemson (SC): Clemson Cooperative Extension, Land-Grant Press by Clemson Extension; 2021 Jun. LGP 1109. https://lgpress.clemson.edu/publication/10-tips-for-farm-social-media/.