A Roadmap to Social Media Success for Your Organization


Of the readings this week, the one that stood out to me the most was Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication by Melody A. Bowdon. Although all the readings* influenced to the contents of this post in some way, Tweeting an Ethos made me think specifically about the roadmap that is needed for ensuring success of an organization’s social media efforts.

The guidelines I offer here are not exhaustive; they are meant to provide a thought framework that can be applied when preparing social media content and subsequently distributing it. This is especially true if, like me, you are being increasingly asked to participate—either developmentally or editorially—in your organization’s social media program.

Here are the guidelines for developing and distributing social media content:

Account for your organization’s core values. Some organizations have documented core values and some do not. If yours is in the former, they should be a core input into your social media editorial calendar (i.e. planned content). If yours is in the latter, your communication team should spend some time assessing what your organization’s core values are and document them. Even if these are not considered formal (i.e. have buy-in from executive leadership) that’s okay. Core values help you know what to write about and what not to, even before you put pen to paper.

Interpret the message. Once you’ve written your social media content, ask yourself three questions: What does this mean? What does this mean to our supporters? What does this mean to our detractors? The answers to these questions should inform the final draft of your content.

For example, you may have had one purpose and intended meaning for your content before you started writing. Is it evident in the file copy? If not, are its purpose and meaning acceptable to you?

Your supporters and detractors will interpret (or seek to interpret) your content in different ways. You should attempt to craft a message that encourages your supporters and discourages your detractors. But, recognize achieving both is not always possible, which is why I recommend the next guideline.

Assess future impact. Remember, at this point your social media content has not been published. It’s a good idea to assess the benefits and risks associated with how the message could be interpreted. This applies to supporters as well as to detractors.

You don’t want supporters to be unhappy and you want detractors to come to your side. Of course, ethics may preclude ameliorating either of those results, but it is better to be fully informed going into a public communication scenario.

Test. Before posting, test content. Big budgets may be available to you to do this with more accuracy. More likely, you will need to take advantage of lower budget, less reliable options. These include running content by objective individuals within the organization (which is why I think I’m getting asked), approaching trusted clients, and following organizations whose social media platforms reflect your own. For the latter case, note responses to content similar to what you intend to post.

Pause before publishing. We’re technical communicators, so this is probably second nature to most of use. We pause and come back to our writing. I once set a “rule” that a 24 hour moratorium on distributing content was in effect, unless an item was time sensitive. I can’t tell you how many times within that 24 hours something changed that either impacted the content, caused a delay in distribution, or cancelled the content all together.


If I stop to think about it, these five guidelines are really social media inputs into an organization’s ethos. (Bowdon recognizes the idea of ethos is defined in a variety of ways including organizational identity, credibility, or Aristotle’s good sense, good moral character, and goodwill (p. 36).) It’s a circular construct. Organizational ethos drives social media content and distribution. In turn, response based on the content influences organizational ethos—or at least the perception of it.

What have I missed in the guidelines?

*The other readings were Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices by Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry and Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South by Bernadette Longo.

Posted on November 8, 2015, in Social Media, Trust, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. HI Aaron,

    These are great guidelines for posting to social media! While you specifically highlight their importance in a business setting, I think many of the rules could also be extended to posting for personal reasons (to some extent).

    Also, in addition to the guidelines you listed above I would add “keep your postings positive” and ask yourself “is this something I would want to see?”. Following both of these guidelines may help you avoid loosing followers as a result of negative content. Additionally, it helps ensure that you are adding value by posting your content rather than cluttering everyone’s news feeds with junk.

  2. Hi Aaron,

    Great guidelines which can be applied to any business regardless of social media presence. I don’t know if my company has anything like that in writing for their digital media so I’m going to use your suggestions. I’m a big follower of the ‘don’t publish right away’ rule. I’ve been using a similar rule for email for over 15 years. One of my rules for business communication is to put a five-minute delay on all outgoing work-related emails. In a few instances when I had responded out of frustration, that five minutes allowed me to revise my “tone.”

    The delay has also allowed me to re-read and catch spelling errors, or improve the message. My other (and most important) rule is to compose the message without the senders address in the “To” box until it’s completed and proofed. I do this because of a mistake a colleague made a decade ago. In forwarding a nasty email from an instructor, my friend let it rip about the teacher using some colorful language. And then hit “reply” instead of “forward.” Yep.

    I still miss her.

    • Oh, that’s a great story, Dana. I have heard of similar emails in the places I have worked, but have…eh em…never of course sending a ranting email myself…eh em.

      Is the delay you are referring to manual or a function in your email program? It seems like the latter. If so, is it Outlook and how do you do that!

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Aaron, as always I appreciate the way you frame your responses to the readings as advice for the rest of us who don’t have some of the real world experiences you do. Might your final paper be a “best practices” or recommendations report to build off of this strategy?

    • Thanks. Dr. Pginetti. I like this idea a lot and have been thinking about it–sort of an emerging media owner’s manual!?!

      Hmmm…”think, think, think,” said Pooh.

  4. Hi Aaron,

    I loved your visual. It reminded me of the rat maze – and correlating that with the “success of an organizations social media efforts” is humoring. One of the things I was thinking was that type of maze (or in your case the treasure hunt) is a true representation of instilling any type of social media strategy. Without a doubt you are guaranteed to go down some roads that will lead nowhere – but if you don’t go down those roads, how would you know what roads didn’t work so you could avoid them in the future?

    But what I did enjoy about your guidelines was that they help to give guidance so maybe you can get to your end destination in a bit faster. But I have to wonder… with the pace of technology change, is it even possible to reach that end target? Or with the social media channels, will we always be striving for something different? This reminds me of the comic strip Dr. Pignetti posted to blog.


    • Good point, Chelsea! Social media is a maze and I like your point about going down a road to see if it is right. Of course, we can learn from others, but others’ situations aren’t exactly our own. I’m learning this through the case study observations.

      You make a good point that social-media wise our end game is not to reach a certain point but to keep it going. Thoughtful.

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