Media channels and platforms vary from traditional formats such as print, broadcast television, and radio to digital formats such as websites, blogs, newsletters, and social media platforms. Whatever their form, channels are the avenues for conveying and consuming content.
Each channel has its own dynamics or culture—distinct behaviors of users, their demographics, and the kinds of content that work well. The number of media channels grows constantly, but it’s not necessary to be active on every one. Make your efforts effective by limiting yourself to the channels that suit your work, voice, audiences, and workflow.
As channels change and are influenced by external events, you can explore the nuances of distinct channels by following and observing how different people or organizations use the various platforms. You can also experiment with creating content before going “live” to gauge if a channel feels like a good fit. Experienced content producers often stockpile content for future use.
These next sections contain tools and skills to use and reuse now and as the digital landscape continues to evolve.
|15 minutes to skim
1 hour exercise
1 hour reflection
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
3 hours total
Practitioners on Experimentation Interview
Likes are nice, but they’re just an indicator of people paying attention.
We spoke with the staff of On Being in 2016 to learn about the ways On Being attentively engages audiences across a range of social media channels. Mariah Helgeson, then- digital editor, and Trent Gilliss, co-founder, and then chief content officer, and executive editor, had these observations.
Create a Watch List Exercise
Pick a channel you’re interested in exploring. If you don’t already have an account, create one. Start following people for inspiration and lessons in what to do and what not to do.
Step 1: Explore #hashtags
If the channel you selected uses hashtags, pick some to follow. You can find hashtags in posts of people you follow, or through a hashtag explorer like Hashtags.org, Hashtagify, or Keyhole. TagDef is a good place to find out what a specific hashtag means.
Step 2: Explore organizations
Consider businesses, services, nonprofits, educational resources, news sources, and competitors. Follow liberally–after all, you can easily unfollow during the week or soon after.
Step 3: Explore individuals
Look for people that are reposted or favorited by others. Follow recommendations from the platform if it recommends users to follow. Consider following people who work in social media, members of your audience and community, and micro or major celebrities.
Step 4: Follow closely for one week
If you do not already have a habit of visiting the channel you selected, schedule time every day to pay attention to it. As you go, take notes about what you see, share, remember, or quickly pass over. Feel free to interact through commenting, chatting, liking, favoriting, re-posting the content you find interesting.
Step 5: Reflect and repeat
After one week, answer the following questions:
- Who inspired or interested you? Why? What was it about their posts? What would you need in terms of time, resources, and technology to do something comparable? Would it serve a need your community already has
- Who can’t you wait to unfollow? Why? Paying attention to who you don’t want to be like can be as important as finding someone to emulate.
Testing Ideas Reflection
Step 1: Get to know the most-used channels
In thinking about which channels are right for you or your organization, consider things like how frequently you want to engage, the audience you want to reach, and how much of your content is likely to be words, photography and images, video, or links. Part of selecting channels will also be about how it feels to make certain kinds of content. When it feels natural and comfortable, you are more likely to be active consistently and authentically and more people are likely to engage with you.
As director of digital content and engagement at Carnegie Hall, Eric Woodhams shared his “channels” toolkit with us. If you aren’t already familiar with the most popular channels, review his tip sheets for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Tumblr, and blogs.
Step 2: Schedule gathering time
If you are an independent creative, schedule this time for yourself or perhaps with a trusted colleague to gain additional insights. If you work for an organization, schedule 15-30 minutes at your next two team meetings to do this activity. You’ll be spending time reflecting individually and collectively about ways you can share your work and engage with people online.
For the first session, spend a couple minutes picking three recent activities or ideas that you could have shared on social media during the past week.
Step 3: Individual reflection
For the next seven minutes, work alone. Think about how it would be easiest and most natural for you to share these three things if it were up to you personally. Think about format (image, words, etc.) and audiences. (Older audiences are less likely to use Snapchat, for example.)
Step 4: Review and reflect
If working with a team, share your individual perspectives. Consider which approaches seem to fit the rhythm and personality of your work or your organization. On which channel(s) will it come most naturally to post and interact? Why do you think so?
Step 5: Test your ideas
Using the channels that rose to the top in the previous step, build a week’s worth of content for those channels. Don’t overwhelm yourself; limit the content to one posting per day for this exercise. You won’t necessarily share this content. Create drafts of posts for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other channels to see how the process feels.
During your next session, reflect on the content you created (and discuss if you are a team):
- Does the content “feel like me/us”?
- How hard or easy was it to create?
- What would I/we do differently next time?
Keeping Up with Changing Channels Go Further
Channels are constantly changing and you may need to adjust to fit the new schemes of social media platforms and to make sure that your community can find you (and vice versa). Here are some sources about different channels, how to use them, and how they’re evolving.
This website is updated monthly with information on the top sites, including rankings, numbers of users and demographic information. You can learn about new platforms to explore and watch the rankings change over time.
This glossary was last updated in 2016 and defines 226 key terms in social media. A great reference if you come across a term you don’t know!
Read NTEN’s blog or follow them on social media to benefit from their research and user-friendly information about all things nonprofit tech. NTEN sponsors an annual conference (which you can attend or follow on Twitter), shares past conference information online, and convenes on-line trainings and webinars.
Beth Kanter is an independent consultant whose work focuses on nonprofits and technology. The author of multiple books, she has a friendly, no-nonsense approach that make her one of the most widely followed experts in nonprofit tech.
# 5 – Tech Crunch or Fast Company
Tech Crunch is a media news outlet where tech is covered with urgency and attitude. If Tech Crunch is too techie for you, try Fast Company. Tech Crunch and Fast Company have different personalities, but they both provide in-depth news for the tech industry including developments taking place within various social media platforms, and news about new entrants.
This New York Times blog by Sree Sreenivasan is a helpful overview that shares insights about how to productively use different channels for professional goals.
Responsibility to self and others Think Deeper
How can you treat the attention you receive responsibly?
Digital engagement offers opportunities to deepen relationships with your audiences, expand your reach, and do meaningful work. But it also raises ethical questions. Social networks and digital technology have become such a constant part of life that even frequent distraction and disconnection feel normal. As a contributor to this landscape, how can you use digital platforms for fulfilling engagement rather than distraction? How can you tell the difference? How could your online work foster experiences or connections that unfold off-line?
How do you explore without scattering your energy?
New platforms and the array of well-established channels offer enticing options to spread out and experiment. That said, there is a fine line between spreading out and getting spread too thin. How will you balance trying new channels with taking the time to connect with audiences and build a following within a channel? How might distinct postings for different channels be streamlined and incorporated into work flows? How will you decide to leave a channel?