Across the nation, Cooperative Extension has planted a significant footprint on social media platforms, and this presence varies widely from state to state. This investment in social media is one innovative technique that reaches new and diverse audiences. It is an important one that needs your help. Regardless of specific strategic plans your institution may have in place, the fact is the responsibility to digitally outreach cannot rely on one person, team, or plan and hope to be effective. Each Extension staff member can, in his or her own way, contribute at some level to maximize our impact in the social media arena.
1. Engage. Do more than just ‘like,’ ‘heart,’ or ‘favorite’ Extension content. You provide exponential exposure when you share or comment on Extension content on your personal social media accounts.
2. Power in numbers. Follow other Extension accounts across the country. Engage with them! When we celebrate one, we celebrate all of Extension.
3. Know your audience. Who is your current audience? Where are teens, diverse audiences, partners and funders? One social media size does not fit all. Find out who is reacting to your content and who isn’t. Most platforms offer comprehensive statistics and metrics, which you can also use in your outreach reporting.
4. Hashtags and handles. Know the difference and when to use them. They can significantly improve the performance of your content.
- Hashtags signify a keyword prefaced with a “#” pound sign. #CoopExt is the national, generic catchall hashtag for CES. People use hashtags to search for conversations and find you in the conversation. If you don’t use them, you don’t show up! Consider creating a hashtag for your state, and/or a special event hashtag. Use hashtags liberally on Twitter and Instagram. Limit to strategic use on Facebook. Do not use hashtags on Pinterest and LinkedIn.
- Handles are names of people and accounts, prefaced with the “@” at sign, e.g., @USDA. They also serve as a social media version of tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “thank you,” or “check this out.”
5. Cultivate and curate. Print your social media handles and hashtags on fliers and brochures and make them visible at programs, workshops, and events. Encourage participants to use them on their personal social media accounts. They become your social media reporters on the ground. You search for their activity and share it out!
6. Contribute to the team. It’s likely your state or county has a person or team to do the official social media posts. Nevertheless, contact them and ask how you can help. Cooperative Extension agents, educators and specialists perform fascinating work every day. The flora and fauna (and much more) we encounter is superb content to share. The photos in your smart phone are valuable social media currency!
Capturing the attention of our social media audience is challenging and competitive. The brands who do it the best (and Extension is a brand of trust, knowledge, innovation, to name just a few!) coordinate their message and reap the benefits of exponential sharing to carry the message to new audiences.
Image source: Flickr user mkhmarketing via Creative Commons license