As leaders in their respective fields, association board members are influencers. Members want to hear from people they trust and respect, which is why it’s important for board members, as influencers, to communicate and connect with members on social media.
Through social media board members can help drive awareness of the association’s programs and activities, promote the association’s thought leadership, and reach a broader audience. However, there are pitfalls that you must be aware of when using the medium.
Success starts with establishing guidelines that address social media posting by board members, according to Tim Hendrickson, Digital Marketing Manager at SmithBucklin, and Emily Drake, Marketing and Communications Manager at SmithBucklin, who have served many associations and have first-hand experience with what works and what doesn’t when it comes to board members using social media. Guidelines – which should be developed by staff and ratified by the board – should include clear strategic objectives for how social media fits in with the overall marketing strategy. Hendrickson and Drake offer the following insights on social media do’s and don’ts for board members.
Rules to Post By
Don’t have an official, branded social media account exclusively for the board or the board president. “That’s something I typically advise against for several reasons,” explains Drake. First, it’s not optimal to have too many “official” social media accounts because it can lead to confusion as people may not know where to go for news or information. Also, multiple accounts might dilute or split a brand’s potential followers, which can curtail reach. And, since board members typically rotate annually, the voice may not be consistent over time. Instead, have one official social media account across platforms that the association shares its information through.
That said, do have board members post association information on their own personal social media channels. “Board members are prominent figures in their industries and have followers that go beyond the membership. They can promote the association through their personal network, reaching an important group of people who may or may not be members,” says Hendrickson.
Do have rules for board members posting to their own accounts. Rule number one: Don’t post content that is too controversial or too political while you hold a position on the board. “Obviously, anything can escalate in a million different ways,” says Drake. “That’s the beauty and the curse of social media.” When a board member is serving the association, they are representing the organization, even on their personal accounts. Because it is hard to predict what’s going to offend or upset someone, board members should be careful not to post something that reflects negatively on the association.
There are a few ways to avoid this pitfall. If a user is commenting or seeking a response to a question, or if they are sharing something more negative like an accusation, the board member should defer to the official account. Or, they should have a stock (generic) response to acknowledge the comment and share that they will get back with an answer. On the other hand, if the board member has a strong opinion on the matter that they want to differentiate from the association’s stance, they should include a disclaimer that makes it clear: “This is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the association.” If the board member does respond to a comment on behalf of the association, it should be vetted by someone on staff, typically a staff marketing professional, to make sure it’s not controversial or inaccurate, says Hendrickson.
Do include rules in the guidelines about endorsements and intellectual property. Board members should not endorse a product or exhibitor on social media, particularly if it’s their own, adds Hendrickson. Board members also should be careful about posting other people’s content, or unauthorized images, when speaking on behalf of the association. On anything questionable, board members should check with their legal team or just not post.
Do converse about the industry or the association in general on social media. There’s no need for vetting or caveats, says Drake. “We definitely encourage board members who are open to it to share different, varied content and be active as often as they can,” she says.
What to Post
Do have a staff member responsible for vetting and overseeing board social media activity. The staff member is typically more familiar with the changing nature of each of the various social media platforms as well as the association’s voice and marketing strategy. “You don’t want to be pushing out information randomly or you won’t get that cohesive branded message,” says Drake. To keep the community engaged, it’s important to have the right mix of news, thought leadership, promotion, and industry information. That could mean association news reports, blog posts or other thought leadership, industry studies or reports, conference promotions, or some other association activity.
The vetting process should apply to questions or potentially controversial content. The association should outline what “controversial” means for the organization in its guidelines, so it’s known upfront by board members.
Do have rules or suggestions about the frequency of posts for each platform. On Facebook, for example, 10 posts a day from an official may be seen as spam, while multiple posts on Twitter is acceptable. Each social media platform is different — and each brand is different — so any guidelines on frequency of posting should take that into consideration, says Hendrickson.
To assist board members posting on their own accounts, Hendrickson and Drake suggest a process where a social media manager feeds stories to board members to post. This can be done easily through various tools, one of which is called Bambu. The social media manager sends out, via email, a list of stories or items for board members to post. They may even provide a sample message, but board members are still encouraged to personalize the post using their own words. Then, within the tool, board members post updates to their followers from their own accounts. “It’s their online community — their network — so they should be making it personal,” says Drake. This is an effective way to keep messaging consistent and to avoid problems.
Do have guidelines for the association’s voice. Some associations may want to sound more playful and fun while others may want to be seen as strictly professional and serious. “The voice should reflect the community,” says Hendrickson. Board members should understand they don’t speak for the organization but on behalf of it, so they should adopt the established voice when posting, Hendrickson says.
Do write posts that are interesting and compelling. “If you’re just posting a press release, you’re probably not going to get a lot of interest,” says Hendrickson. “But, if somebody is posting their own personal point of view about why the release is important and providing some context around it, they will probably receive more engagement.”
If the post is to promote a conference, then go beyond just mentioning the dates and location and focus on an interesting speaker or session — maybe one per week. That makes it more personal and helps it stand out, adds Drake. Shorter is always better.
Do use hashtags. If it’s a post about a conference, use the conference hashtag as well as a hashtag related to the topic or the speaker. Hashtags and handles should be used on any type of posts to amplify the message and increase engagement or reach.
As leaders in the industry, board members’ words speak volumes. That’s why an effective social media strategy should consider the expertise and gravitas of board members.
This article was originally published by Smithbucklin. Reprinted with permission. © Smithbucklin 2023. Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Prateek Katyal.