by Sarah May, Johanna Rudorf, Rendeé Slowden, and Mathias Weber
With an established strategy, Social Media proves to be an effective communication tool for sharing ideas and reaching new audiences. By analyzing the Social Media presence of the Atlantic Expedition, the social media team was able to generate a number of best practices and lessons learned that can also be utilized by fellow organizations with the goal of enhancing their social media presence and visibility.
As we navigate through a noisy 21st century, social media has proven itself an immensely powerful conduit for social change and business operations. Public and private sector entities utilize these mediums to increase brand recognition and legitimacy. As it has done for many other organizations time and again, it is not surprising that social media also proves to be a unique and effective tool for the dissemination of the narratives developed and expressed by the Atlantic Expedition. Therefore, the Atlantic Expedition should capitalize on the power of social media to not only share new ideas within its existing cohort, but to forge new connections with organizations or partners that are unaware of its messages and activities.
To measure the efficacy of the Atlantic Expedition’s social media activity, we began by analyzing the current social media platforms used by the Expedition: Facebook and Twitter. We conducted a Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats, and Opportunities (SWOT) analysis and survey. Concurrently, we used social media analytic tools and metrics to understand how often we posted, what type of content gained the most traction, and what are the best practices of similar organizations within the transatlantic community.
Upon analyzing the data received, we established a point for areas of improvement by crafting a communication strategy based on a AAA (audience, aim, and action) process. The AAA process helped us narrow our audience, while finding unique ways to engage with them. We then devised five formal recommendations for each platform, to be implemented during and a month after the conference. Our results indicate great success, such as reaching over 13,000 impressions on Twitter at one point!
Our deliverables include comparative “before and after” data visualizations, in the form of infographics. These infographics illustrate a sample timeline of our tweets, comparison data to similar organizations, and our top five recommendations for each platform to visually demonstrate opportunities and areas of improvement.
The objective of the Social Media Campaign Project is twofold: 1) to enhance the Expedition’s existing social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter – to promote the transatlantic dialogue, and 2) to eventually extend the Atlantic Expedition’s social media presence beyond these two platforms to other effective communication channels. These objectives can be accomplished via:
- Identifying target audiences;
- Developing consistent and targeted content that effectively speaks to the target audiences;
- Legitimizing the organization with tools such as Twitter’s blue verification badge;
- Extending engagement with former fellows;
- Improving branding by creating and using popular hashtags.
Both during and after the Expedition, we primarily focused on the first two bullet points.
IDENTIFYING TARGET AUDIENCES
To advance the Atlantic Expedition’s current social media platforms, we initially sought to engage with audiences not typically involved in the transatlantic conversation. However, we quickly realized that we were not reaching intended audiences traditionally involved in transatlantic relations, including critical German-US American groups, NGOs, academic institutions, and other transatlantic partners. Therefore, prior to expanding our social media presence to reach new and unfamiliar audiences, we first had to ensure we were effectively reaching established influencers within our social networks.
In addition, to devise a clear messaging strategy, we filtered through our followers and added key new stakeholders to craft a clearer profile and target audience. In addition, we followed and liked pages of local and global audiences beginning with students, young professionals, and the Expedition’s existing alumni network. Going forward, it is essential that we expand our engagement with even more influencers and “connectors.” It is not only a matter of connecting personally with these individuals and organizations, but also tapping into their useful networks.
Our aim is to use strategic communication to engage others in the initiative and to ensure interested parties are aware of the organization, all with the hope of one day developing more interactive platforms. Actions to achieve this strategy consist of:
- Ensuring our followers remain as objective, non-partisan, and non-politicized as possible;
- Strategically connecting with and following German and US influencers (e.g., think tanks, US/German companies, CEO’s, individuals, journalists covering transatlantic issues, etc.);
- Connecting with and developing long-lasting partnerships with the experts from the Chicago and Houston Expedition;
- Extending engagement with current and former Fellows.
DEVELOPING CONTENT THAT EFFECTIVELY SPEAKS TO TARGET AUDIENCES
Creative content is key to maintaining interest among our target audiences. Presently, our content is focused on promoting the activities of the Fellowship and sharing news regarding German-US American relations. We hope to make use of the strong foundation we have built while, experimenting with more interactive content to foster an ongoing dialogue, for example a “question of the week” or a “testimonials” series. In addition to posting articles from interesting sources and links to valuable resources, we have considered the following:
- Adding events to establish a strong presence beyond the traditional German and United States transatlantic hubs (e.g., alumni events in different cities);
- Personalizing our social media presence with more photos and videos (e.g., “a behind-the-scenes look”);
- Live-streaming presentations, tweeting and sharing photos and videos, and conducting brief interview clips with experts and fellows throughout the conference;
- Posting content that includes both professional experiences (such as meetings and presentations), as well as fun activities (such as photos from the Willis Tower and Millennium Park Bean).
Throughout the Expedition, we achieved several of our goals and significantly strengthened the Atlantic Expedition’s social media presence. During the conference,, we tweeted at meetings, posted videos and photos to Facebook, asked participants to share their photos and compiled them into a Facebook album, live-streamed a panel at Rice University (with over 800+ views), and conducted video “confessionals” with experts at organizations, such as “One Northside.” The content we amassed can be used and re-used for new and future conversations to sustain a productive dialogue.
The volume of activity on both Facebook and Twitter resulted in tremendous payoff. Results indicated over a 680% increase in the number of tweets, a 23% increase in the number of followers, and over a 640% increase of profile visits. Most importantly, based on the above-mentioned data, Facebook and Twitter now seem to be on a more secure footing. Therefore, we are ready to expand into other social media platforms.
BEST PRACTICES AND LESSONS LEARNED
- Network strength: The Atlantic Expedition’s Facebook page was the more popular platform for Fellows, as this is how many fellows initially learned about the Expedition. Facebook also has a greater network/follower base.
- A picture is worth a thousand words: One of our best practices includes the ability to use pictures, videos, and other visuals to resonate with a younger audience.
- Links: A lesson learned from Facebook was that posting links to articles tended to have less engagement.
- Archive: We will need to explore ways to store and archive content as references for the future in case these current social media platforms lose their appeal.
- Gaining followers: To increase our following, we learned that it was essential to not only post, but develop a target audience for each post. For example, tagging universities and other associations with group members (e.g. “@GWU’s Sarah May presenting on Social Media in Germany”). We strongly believe this will increase our interactivity and engagement with external audiences.
- Hashtags: The hashtag #atlanticexpedition / #atlanticexpedition17 was used to garner a following for the entire expedition and gained us retweets and likes. A lasting hashtag beyond the Expedition still needs to be created.
- Obtaining a blue checkmark: The blue check mark is obtained when an individual or organization is verified on Twitter. Unfortunately, this checkmark could not yet be obtained, as the verification process would limit access and interfere with our strategy of having various active users.
Even though the Atlantic Expedition II has concluded, we see the Social Media Campaign project as a long-term project with endless potential to revitalize transatlantic relations. As the Expedition’s presence expands, our strategy and approach may also need to be altered. This should be an important consideration for moving forward.
New Platforms: To continue the proliferation of the Atlantic Expedition’s message, the Atlantische Initiative could expand its use of technologies and platforms to include Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Participating in other ventures, such as Totals and using Memes ensures a wide range of audiences is reached.
Advertising: In addition to new platforms, we suggest further exploring advertising opportunities on Facebook and Twitter to advance traction. The associated costs could pose concerns. However, future advertisements could eventually be obtained via sponsorships.
Language: Since language is often a barrier for engagement, the Atlantische Initiative could experiment translating its posts into both English and German. This would ensure that we reach all our intended audiences.
Content Balance: Finding the right balance between professional and fun posts is key! While we want to highlight the fun events of the organization, it is important to not let this detract from presenting the organization in a professional manner.
Collaboration and Alumni Engagement: This project has demonstrated that numerous actors can benefit from a more robust social media presence. The strategy and findings throughout this campaign can be used to help future organizations, as well as Fellows, understand the value of strategic communication and messaging in numerous contexts.
Specifically, the enhanced social media profile of the Atlantic Expedition can be used to share the projects and memos of past and current fellows on a global scale. As such, we hope to collaborate with several fellows’ groups to not only enhance the Expedition’s social media presence, but to promote and advocate for their projects as well. Another collaboration should be established with the group of fellows currently working on creating a blog promoting the voices of next generation of Atlanticists. Blog entries could be shared over the Atlantic Expedition’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
In addition, we hope to connect with former fellows by generating an alumni network. Establishing an alumni network helps expand our audience of “connectors.” Not only would this network help reach current and former fellows, but also provide access to best practices, lessons learned, and future professional connections.
Social media is rapidly growing and, with an established strategy, it proves to be an effective communication tool for sharing ideas and reaching new audiences. By utilizing social media to its full potential, the Atlantic Expedition can play a crucial role in ensuring that the transatlantic debate becomes more inclusive, engaging and dynamic in the future, thereby revitalizing transatlantic relations.