The social media toolbox is a wonderful thing.

There’s a new tool in there every so often, and the most useful ones update themselves. Some of the tools are free, others expensive. But there’s normally at least one that is suitable for any job.

toolbox

Have a good rummage - there's a tool for every task

The social media toolbox is open for everyone, which can be a problem. Those who are really keen to engage with their audiences online are often drawn to the shiniest tools first: think apps or Facebook pages.

People who remain uncertain about digital might latch on to just one tool. That would be Twitter, judging by some of the conversations I have had recently.

Trouble is, like anything that’s popular or useful, the effect quickly becomes diluted through familiarity, or over-use. In the NHS and Government, lots of organisations are using Twitter regularly for broadcast and a bit of conversation. But there are few who are taking it further; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is one example of an organisation who are.

I’m familiar with the gentle wave of enthusiasm from colleagues, with every new tool that appears in the box. My job is all about encouraging use of digital, so I don’t want to lock the lid. But at the same time I don’t want to be left with misused social media, or colleagues underwhelmed with the results.

So how can you create a balance; maintaining quality and effectiveness without colleague’s losing their appetite for digital?

Have a clear purpose for each tool or channel
This means audience, objectives and targets. For example, a webchat is worth doing if it helps you reach an audience you might struggle to talk to any other way. But if there isn’t a clear subject, audience or reason for doing it, save it for another time.

Own it
Most digital teams will aspire to devolve ownership of forums or blogs to policy teams and others, but the consequences of failure will always rest with that original team. So, make sure colleagues are clear about how to use a tool, and are accountable to you.

Be clear about what the is good for, and what it isn’t
This is a toughie. Be prepared to explain to senior people that the shiny new tool (Google +, Quora etc) won’t deliver the same level of engagement as that slightly 1990’s-looking forum that we don’t ‘own’. Alternatively, be prepared to really sell the benefits of digital, and do some hand-holding along the way.

Plan what you’re going to use and when. Keep the tool special
Familiarity breeds contempt, so if you enjoy some success with an effective digital project, think really carefully before trying to emulate it again. There will always be a bigger/more important/more high profile project round the corner.

Evaluate it, honestly and fairly
Keep your targets realistic and be honest when something doesn’t really work.  Its tempting to say all social media work is worthwhile, because it demonstrates ‘innovation’. Rubbish. Times are tough. Resources are tight. Your time, and your colleague’s time, is too valuable for vanity.

The toolbox is big. And getting bigger. There is plenty of good stuff to choose from, it just needs looking after.

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordonr/