Getting to "How" - Lessons from 8th Grade Journalism Applied to Social Media Strategy

Part 1 – Ask the Right Questions, in the Right Order.

Many people and organizations are asking, “How can I take advantage of social media?” Unfortunately, figuring that out isn’t easy. Complicating the issue is that advise they do receive is frequently incomplete and difficult to translate into actionable steps that easily align with your communication goals. 

These are some of the things I’ve overhead so called “experts” give as advise.

use twitter

build a facebook page

create a group on linkedin

Well, those are answers. But they sound like answers to where rather than how.

So, they stall out…

Inevitably, they get a twitter account and then ask, “now what?”

Why is this so hard?

Sometimes they do get a flurry of suggestions about what to post because of something occurring in the current moment. Unfortunately, the context is spontaneous and difficult to apply elsewhere.

So, they post occasionally unsure why or with whom.

I'm a big fan of trial error, and it has a well deserved seat at the buffet of social media strategies. But they key is to actually have a strategy To get to an effective strategy, it can be helpful to ask why you want to use social media. That can be tough question to

So, they stall out... again…

In the abstract, there is only one answer to this question, to communicate. An answer, yes. Helpful? Only if your studying the philosophy of social media.


We started with how, which lead to where, and then to what and now to why. And we still don’t know who we are talking to.

A Series of Questions

I think I sense a pattern. Asking a question just leads to more questions. This is not encouraging. So, they put it off… Do the questions ever end?

Unequivocally, YES!

But if asked in random order without establishing context within your overall communication strategy it is unlikely that a comprehensive understanding social media and an actionable plan will suddenly appear.

Right Questions, Right Order

So, lets explicitly state some questions in an order than might be more helpful.

Who are you talking to?
Why are you communicating?
What should you say?
Where should this communication occur?
When should you communicate?

5 W's of Journalism

Well look at that. It's the 5 W's of journalism you learned in middle school! Funny, that a practice from such an "old economy" trade is still valid in our new world of social media. Sssshh! Don't let the secret out. This is a huge advantage for us. While your competition is befuddled by social media, you know that its the same shit, different day. All you need is a little brainstorming within the familiar structure of the 5 W's. Once you answer the 5 W's, the "how" of social media will be self evidant!

Still, a little daunted? Let me share how we did it.

Change Challege - Learn by teaching

I’ve been volunteering for an effort called “Change Challenge” for the last 6 months or so. It's an effort to help non-profits develop a social media strategy. And it uses one of my favorite pedagological approaches - learning by teaching. It’s 20 people divided into 4 teams with each team dedicated to helping 1 non-profit organization's social media efforts. My team (Kris, Mike, and Kirika) is working with Emory Center for Injury Control, ECIC. We’ve come a long way in half a year, but holy shit batman, we’ve spent hundreds of hours trying to figure it. If you’ve got hundreds of hours you need to fill, by all means, don’t read further! Over the next several posts, I'll share the answers to the 5 W's as applied to ECIC’s social media strategy. With the familiar concepts of a middle school newspaper and a concrete example how its applied, you'’ll soon be calling yourself a social media expert. Then you can start blogging about it too!

Coming up…

  • Question 1: who? answer: personas.
  • Question 2: why? answer: the three pillars of communication.
  • Question 3: what? answer: campaigns, events and other triggers.
  • Question 4: where? answer: channels, channels and more channels.
  • Question 5: when? answer: define a trigger and make a plan.
  • Question 6: How? answer: I just told you make a plan! Just execute the plan. What do you want me to do, write you a web app?