Three Years of Social Media-Lessons Learned

web words signs post over blue sky
web signs post from Crestock Stock Photos

Article offered by the Community Policing Dispatch, COPS Office, US Department of Justice, January 2010.

Social media sites are popping up everywhere as more and more agencies are starting to incorporate them into their media outreach efforts. We created our federal social media site 3 years ago, and believe that the site has provided concrete benefits to our agency. At this writing, we are averaging 200,000 requests a month. Here are some of the “lessons learned” that have been derived from our collective experience:

What is Social Media?

There is no formula or specific definition for a successful social media strategy; it depends entirely on your circumstances and what you want to accomplish. The heart of the philosophy of social media is the willingness to interact with your customers to establish a dialog. It’s an even exchange; you give them neat and interesting content and they give you information to improve what you do.

Management Directives

Your managers state that they want to enter the social media world and have directed you to do it. But do what, and who will do everything necessary? Are they interested in a blog? Do they want video and audio? Are they interested in photos? Do they want a presence on Facebook and other social media sites? Who will respond to questions?

The bottom-line is that management needs to figure out what it wants and what it’s prepared to spend. They also need to know that it’s impossible for one person to do everything necessary for a successful site.

Who Creates Web sites?

Web sites are created by a variety of people with a mix of skills. Here are the skill sets necessary to create a web site:

  • Web site creation (designers and coders)
  • Web site population (posting relevant materials)
  • Web site marketing
  • Writing for web sites.

The problem is that there are few individuals who possess all those skills. Reliance on less than well rounded talent becomes painfully evident the more we visit emerging web sites. But the sad truth is that few web specialists have all the skills necessary to build a successful site. The lesson is that dependence on one person to create and manage a web site may not work.

What Do You Want Your Web site to do?

If you want a static web site that will never or rarely change and if you’re not interested in using the site to market your agency or engage people, you have just hit the jackpot. These sites require little maintenance. However, if you want the site to promote the agency and its agenda and if you want to interact with your customers/citizens (the heart of social media) then you have entered an entirely different world.

Marketing through social media means an endless effort to create new content that serves your customer/citizen base. The idea is a continual interaction with the people you want to reach, thus a constant flow of new products. The production of video, audio, blogs or other items requires dedication and resources.

Social media means having people to create products. Writing for the web or media production for the web must be appropriate. You’re not writing for academic journals. Web creation must be friendly, engaging in content and style and approachable. You have to make it easy for people to get the information they need.

Marketing Your Site

This is the essence of many unsuccessful sites, no one knows you exist. Suggestions:

  • Create a great site that users will find interesting and engaging.
  • Establish your key words, the words that will attract people. What are the key words or phrases that will attract people to your site?
  • The address (URL) title and description should contain your key words. This may be “the” most important factor leading to success in marketing your site.
  • Your key words need to be integrated into your postings.
  • Create e-mail marketing lists.
  • Create Twitter marketing lists.
  • Ask for links or create content that other people will feel compelled to link to. Links are like votes of confidence in the value of your site. The more links you have, the better your ranking is for key search terms. The better your ranking, the more people will find your site.
  • Leave helpful comments in relevant blog posts with your web address (thus creating a link to your site).
  • Create pages in the top 25 social media sites (i.e., Facebook, YouTube, etc.) and post to them often.
  • Ask other sites to include your site in its offerings. Ask major blog directories to include your blog.

We believe that web development and marketing must be seen in the context of the long run. It’s impossible to do all this in a series of days or weeks or months. We do marketing every day and take it in small bites. We do it as time allows, but it gets done.

Answering Questions

You will find that it’s not nearly as bad as some make it out to be. I discovered this when marketing a national media campaign. We were the best known public service campaign in America; but few contacted us for an elaborate discussion, most wanted a quick answer to a question or a had suggestion to offer.

If you have prepared materials your burden will be relatively small. But the heart and soul of social media is personal interaction when asked. I do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call the person. We need to know what others think of us and our services.

New and Shiny Things

One of the biggest mistakes people new to social media make is chasing every new and shiny thing that comes down the pike. There are some people (including us) who cannot leave good enough alone. If you developed your blog or web site with WordPress, then you have an endless array of themes, widgets and plug-ins to choose from. I wasted many, many hours looking at new applications that in the long run meant little to nothing to the quality of my site. Stick to basics. You have enough to worry about. Create a site that serves your users and move on.


Find the best resources. Go to the big retail outlets on the web that specialize in books. Search for books that describe themselves as basic or for newcomers or for “dummies.” They will take the time to offer explanations for people without social media backgrounds. Search for “social media” or “˜podcasting” or “blogs” or “marketing.” Do not get anything that assumes prior knowledge.

There is another source for related terms such as social media, Twitter, podcasting, etc. called the Common Craft store on YouTube. It provides simple explanations for these and many additional terms. Please do not be put off by their simplicity. Sometimes, simplicity is just what you need to learn or to explain terms to others.


Your IT people may object to the use of internal servers due to security issues of lack of capacity. Using outside web site hosting companies, which can start at approximately $10.00 a month, can put an end to objections.


Search engines do not like change, and you may pay a temporary price in search visibility. But you may find that your original plan doesn’t work or you see a need to take the site in a different direction. It’s a normal part of the process. Make your changes to the site and marketing efforts as soon as practical and move on.


There are endless additional considerations when creating social media sites and there are existing materials that address them. But most issues seem to fall into the categories discussed:

  • Management needs to know what they want to do and provide resources. There is no single definition of a successful social media strategy.
  • Establishing your key words at the beginning and integrating them into every aspect of your site is crucial.
  • You can’t expect one person to create, populate, write for and market your web site. The necessary skills are often beyond the capacity of one person alone. You may be great at writing code but marketing and web writing and document creation is foreign to you, yet all are necessary skills.
  • You and your managers need to understand the purpose of a social media site. Static sites have their place (but it’s diminishing). Interactive sites require resources or they will not work.
  • Market your site in bits you can deal with. We market every day. We do not try to take on the entire marketing effort at one time.
  • Unless you are J.C. Penney, you will not spend every waking moment of your professional life answering questions. But spend time with inquiries that cannot be answered simply. They often provide more in insight than you provide in terms of information.
  • Don’t chase every new “shiny thing” that comes along. Most are time wasters.
  • Get the right (basic – very basic) reference materials.
  • Bandwidth is no longer an issue if you hire outside companies to supply it.
  • Change is normal. Make your changes as soon as possible in the development process.

-Timothy Barnes
-Len Sipes

The authors are public affairs and IT specialists at an independent Federal agency



  1. Very informative post Timothy and Len. You guys really know your stuff.

    I’ve been marketing various products and services online for a few years now and I agree with just about everything you said in regards to utilizing social media.

    Many people don’t realize what it takes to get traffic or better yet subscribers who will actually interact. It’s a long and tedious task that many find discouraging and give up on.

    I personally have struggled with using social media to the best of my advantage because of all the info and opinions you hear online. Like you said there are tons of time wasters out there. In fact my blog is almost 3 years old and I had to leave it alone and dormant until I could understand all the angles that I needed to cover. So I created new blogs for learning on until I figured I had things a bit more under control.

    I’ve also studied SEO for the past couple years. Talk about an everchanging beast. Holy! Anyways that might be another good topic for you guys down the road to touch on.

    I’d like to add a link on my blog to yours so my readers can read what you two are talking about. It’s always more inviting to read something if there isn’t a pitch hidden in the mix.
    What do you say? Would that be all right?

    If not, no biggie I’ll just keep the tidbits to myself=)

    Cheers to a Great Post Fellas. Keep up the good work by sharing what people need.

    Shane in Wyo

  2. Thanks for this info! My new job highly suggests using social media for success — never could grasp what it actually is …. until now!!

  3. Thanks for all the info. I have been wanting to play with the idea of starting a social media site myself but didn’t know where to start. This should be a great guide for me.

  4. Social media are very important for internet success.

  5. I am really impressed by the detail of social media. There are so many people that are so confused when it comes to social media but it is becoming such a big part of society!

  6. adelaide dancing says:

    definitely interacting is important and also meeting people on their terms, if people prefer facebook then you have a presence on facebook, if people prefer twitter then you have a presence on twitter, wherever there is people, that is where you need to be!

  7. Jason Wright says:

    This is really impressive I like the point you have mention about using social media as a tool for marketing as it is not only popular but also very effective..especially in the sense of internet marketing..and I am looking forward to some more information like this so keep posting..

  8. Real estate blogger Newark says:

    Agree with the statement “reliance on less than well rounded talent becomes painfully evident the more we visit emerging web sites” An alternative is to outsource website development, but in this case, the owners/managers of the website need to have a great product manager to provide a clear spec and requirement. In addition, it’s difficult to measure the effect of those social elements on a website because most of them help engagement, which is difficult to measure

  9. I agree totally, thank you so much for pointing out a lot of these lessons to us all!

  10. Thank you for pointing these out to us all!

  11. Totally agree and I believe you cannot stress how important Twitter is as a social media tool. allows you to track traffic and believe me there is alot of it.

  12. Canberra Personal Trainer says:

    Wow! Lot of great stuff in this post! Thanks much! 🙂

  13. Scranton MLS says:

    Social media is so huge in today’s technology. I’ve made many business contacts through LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook. I don’t think that this was as relevant 5 years ago as it is today. In order to market yourself and/or your business you do need to be aware of the social networking aspect. You’ve put it all together very nicely in this post.

  14. land clearing says:

    Its kind of funny as some people say they have no idea what social media is but they are avid facebook and youtube users.

    If you are a company you need to track your brand in social media to see what is being said about you.

  15. Plymouth Michigan Real Estate says:

    Consider social networks as a giant Chamber of Commerce networking event… without geographical borders!

    Just as you might attend a networking event intending to talk with an attorney, a CPA and other professionals, be sure to enter the SocNets with a similar goal. Also, remember that you will be ostracized pretty fast if all you talk about is yourself, your services and/or your product. Reach out, communicate and build relationships…just like you do in real life.

  16. Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon says:

    Social media’s awesome power can really take your breath away when you take a step back and see the change that it can cause in the world. Many brands and traditional media companies are focused on social media’s effects on their relationships with consumers. Yet it is social media’s ability to fundamentally shift how people discover, connect, communicate and interact with each other that what makes the space so powerful.

  17. FL Studio says:

    Great post, social media is one of the faster rising phenomenons i have seen in my 25 years of lifetime. THe power of it is quite astounding if it is done strategically instead of all over the place, wasting time. Social media will soon be the number on platform for all businesses.

  18. Mister Houston says:

    Never would have thought I would find such fresh information on a government site. You hit the nail on the head and covered all of the factors that go into creating a dynamic social media campaign.

  19. Sunless Tan says:

    Social media sites like facebook and twitter have become a huge part of the web in the past few years. I wish I would’ve thought of them first!

  20. Women only says:

    Social networking has surpassed the need for meeting physically for communicating things or for keeping in touch. Since it is free, it enjoys mass popularity and is gaining thousands of new users daily across the world!

  21. Very useful information that I take into account to develop my website. Social media is becoming a big part of our society and we surely have to learn how to use it to our advantage.

  22. Taiyo Yuden CDs says:

    I appreciate your work that and your efforts to craete this post. good work

  23. Remember that we always have to keep up-to-date on the Internet. Lessons like these always help.

  24. PaydayCash Advance says:

    I agree that the social media phenomena is huge and apply it in business is great. The potentials are almost limitless. And boy we have to learn a lot cause it’s not easy to get up to speed in this rapid world. Great post

  25. Slipper Island says:

    Excellent post on Social Media. Thank you.

  26. Guitar Center Drum says:

    Can’t agree more with the statement “reliance on less than well rounded talent becomes painfully evident the more we visit emerging web sites.” We all know that there’s no free lunch; as we take advantage of the cheaper workforce, an organization has to find the right person to manage and coordinate all these effort. Great post.

  27. On vacation in the Philippines says:

    Social media is powerful. It also ensures that the business is honest and has integrity. Just remember AOL or Walmart, to mention just a couple; they lost billions in sales and customer confidence when the market viewed their marketing as misleading.

  28. twitter marketing says:

    Very useful page here for anyone who interested in getting into social media and what it can offer. I didn’t expect to see it on a Government site either!

    More and more businesses are getting into it now, even those who wouldn’t benefit that much from it. I saw a carpet cleaner on Twitter the other day!

    Either way, it’s an exciting and easy to use format that everyone can have a go at and do well if they just do it right.

  29. Franchises says:

    One topic not touched upon there was the responsibility of the site owner to oversee content posted on their network. Although the law varies from country to country, it is advised that site owners that have web2 style social networking capability should not contribute posts themselves. If you are actively monitoring your site then you can be held responsible for the content posted by others and held liable for it.

  30. Social media seems to become the bane of many a webmaster’s life. Thanks for a clear article about what to do with it. However, I’d add one more reason to the list of why website creation and maintenance can’t be done by just one person. No one person can hope to consistently create that much fresh, original content. Without fresh and original content, no site will work.

    Donald from Hemorrhoids Home Remedy

  31. Study in Queensland says:

    I got distracted with all of the new and shiny widgets and plug-ins when I started my wordpress blog, but then again I was a newbie and had a lot to learn, now I focus on what is most important for my users. I agree with this post and advise newbies to forget about the new and shiny things and focus on quality content.

  32. Nirmal says:

    Hi everybody, Social media have been modernized to reach consumers through the internet. Social media have become appealing to big and small businesses. Credible brands are utilizing social media to reach customers and to build or maintain reputation. As social media continue to grow, the ability to reach more consumers globally has also increased. Twitter, for example has expanded its global reach to Japan, Indonesia, and Mexico, among others. This means that brands are now able to advertise in multiple languages and therefore reach a broader range of consumers. Social media have become the new “tool” for effective business marketing and sales. Popular networking sites including Myspace, Facebook and Twitter are social media most commonly used for socialization and connecting friends, relatives, and employees

  33. Excellent post on Social Media. Thank you.

  34. Just as you might attend a networking event intending to talk with an attorney, a CPA and other professionals, be sure to enter the Social networks with a similar goal. Also, remember that you will be ostracized pretty fast if all you talk about is yourself, your services and/or your product. Reach out, communicate and build relationships, just like you do in real life.

  35. New Home Frisco says:

    Hey that is a fantastic post on the value of marketing through social media. We have even incorporated texing into our marketing plan.

  36. McKinney Home sales says:

    One thing I hate about the internet is that just when you think you have it all figured out it changes.

  37. jsmith01 says:

    Cool…i have just read it!!..i just found a relevant sources regarding social media.! great post you just did sir!!..thanks!

  38. MoneyNowUSA says:

    Another great tool is This site is designed to handle every function of Twitter you can imagine- from scheduling posts to tracking data.


  39. Magazine Subscriptions says:

    Social media definitely has it’s place but I don’t think it should be too heavily relied upon.

  40. Social media is so huge in today’s technology. I’ve made many business contacts through LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook. I don’t think that this was as relevant 5 years ago as it is today. In order to market yourself and/or your business you do need to be aware of the social networking aspect. You’ve put it all together very nicely in this post.

  41. Social media is so huge in today’s technology. I’ve made many business contacts through LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook. I don’t think that this was as relevant 5 years ago as it is today. In order to market yourself and/or your business you do need to be aware of the social networking aspect.
    You’ve put it all together very nicely in this post.

  42. A very Nicely written article.Social media are media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues.

  43. website backup says:

    Social media benefits are only as good as the person managing them. A poorly mis managed social media campaign will have a negative impact on you as a person (or your business). Limit the amount of information you publish about yourself.

  44. red microwave says:

    I agree that there are too many social media sites available on the internet. every other day a new one is being introduced. the benefits are not useful anymore

  45. pot racks says:

    social media is very helpful but one can oly guess at what is next after this

  46. denpras says:

    a very informative article, I also agree that a good web site is a web content writing can promote to others. This is supported by good content. but do not forget things like that will make google SERP’s web site helps you in displaying your web based searchable keywords. for the optimization of the script should be optimized

  47. Koliviz says:

    I totally agree with your first point. Before anything, you must know why does your website exist. What are your website’s objectives? Knowing that before starting a social media campaign will ultimately tell you whether something is worth pursuing or not.

  48. effective radio commercial says:

    Most social media marketing ‘tools’ are free to use and can provide the same amount of marketing exposure whether you are just starting out or are a giant conglomerate.

    Social media marketing works in a similar way to other forms of marketing; it is viral. A small company initially works on a word of mouth basis, people tell their friends. This type of marketing, especially Twitter and Facebook, work with the ‘friend’ concept. People can give you positive reviews, recommend your product and tweet about your company.

  49. John Preston says:

    Very useful page here for anyone interested in getting into social media. Very informative for a government site, glad to see our tax dollars at work 🙂

    More and more thing s for us all to be aware of in this ever connected world

  50. Lana Paris says:

    I have been wanting to play with the idea of starting a social media site myself but didn’t know where to start. Thanks for the info

  51. Lisa Scott says:

    Social media is great, but at some point it becomes infomation overload. How much networking can you do? Pretty soon all the work we do will be soley networking. lol

  52. Kaye Swain - SandwichINK for the Sandwich Generation Issues says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article. I’ve limited my primary use of social media to some Facebook and quite a bit on Twitter. I’ve found both to be excellent resources for SandwichINK articles for the Sandwich Generation caring for elderly parents and staying busy with activities for grandparents and their grandchildren. My affiliation with the Boomers and Seniors: News You Can Use blog carnival came from Twitter and it’s been a fun relationship.

  53. red microwave says:

    social media seems to be expanding at an alarming rate. Everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon these days. I think its blogging gone mad

  54. Social media – I hope – has reached its peak. I’ve gradually begun to see the importance of it, but think it has too much of a hold on our society today. Like all things, it will likely even out.

  55. Social media is a great marketing method, however, some parts of it work better for certain products and services. You have to be careful that you are targeting the right audience otherwise you can end up spending hours and hours with very little to show for it… It is always a good idea to test and track results so you can see what is working and what is not..

  56. I think social media is the best option right now. It has a huge potential.

  57. We coverd an article on online marketing pitfalls on our gaming portal. It is full of lessons people could draw on link building outsourced.

  58. parfum original says:

    nice post

  59. Social media has become a powerful marketing tool. Non-profit organizations have also realized the importance of social media. Twitter is a good example on how world wide opinion can be created for a cause. Definitely the organizations will benefit by adding social media participation in their campaign.
    Internet Ideas

  60. Daniel - Marketing Specialist says:

    My lessons learned from Social Media? Have a plan! Hire someone who knows the industry. I know a friend Natasha Lee Beckow who owns her own Social Media Marketing firm and what a difference leadership makes!

    A written plan to share with management makes such a difference in getting the funding and resources to actually make social media work for corporate initiatives. Measurement and analysis of key performance indicators help to target audiences and redirect monetary resources for improved efficiency.

    Daniel Tetreault.

  61. RealWebSEO says:

    Social media is a powerful tool nowadays, especially Twitter and Facebook.
    People can give you positive reviews, recommend your product and tweet about your company.
    Excellent post, thank you!

  62. Rob Poulos says:

    Really a great info. social media is very powerful tool.

  63. This is a great article but I’ve tried to use social media as a means to advertising it has its ups and downs but it something that everyone should consider

  64. Totally worthy content. Social networking is the latest revolution in online advertising and it continually surprises me how few leverage its potential.


  65. stevan external hemorrhoids cure says:

    Social networking has really taken the internet by storm. Who would have believed it possible

  66. Las Vegas Social Media - Kris says:

    Great post, and these lessons can easily be applied by many small businesses. It’s a power tool that can be used to engage with your target audience.


  67. Joe Smith says:

    Social media is a good option for internet marketing. I feel it will be growing lot more in the coming years.

  68. Plano Texas says:

    Social media is the wave of the future of life and business. Thanks for this great article!

  69. John Wayne says:

    Very informative. I own a small business, so very useful.

  70. Loved your article. Useful for me

  71. loved article

  72. Pablo posicionamiento says:

    The Social Media is still very new to understand and measure, not as other online channels.

  73. Thanks so much for the article. Social media is growing at a rapid pace and hasn’t even reached it’s peak yet.

  74. Considerably, this post is really the sweetest on this notable topic. I harmonize with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your incoming updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the phenomenal clarity in your writing. I will directly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Admirable work and much success in your business dealings! Please excuse my poor English as it is not my first tongue.

  75. usaha modal kecil says:

    i have lernt about social media function from this blog, thank you dude

  76. wow – very indepth article and a great reference for companies trying to enter the social media scene. We will be sending many clients to this article as a reference – thanks for sharing.

  77. creare site says:

    I don’t know to say about this Social Media Lessons

  78. traveller says:

    Social Media is definitely an important form of marketing and communication for all businesses now, but it’s also very, very time consuming – so the adoption of it has been quite slow.

  79. Agreed…very important and good topic to discuss more often!

  80. I became a member of a few social sites and found out that most if not all are just used for people who want to have pleasure online. I have also taken note that each of them have heavy advertisements. I guess that’s where a lot of businesses can get targeted visitors.

  81. MarilynRoberts says:

    Can get a lot of lessons here. Very helpful and useful. Read this article…

  82. The heart of the philosophy of social media is the willingness to interact with your customers to establish a dialog. Social media is everything right now… you cant turn on the tv without seeing a facebook or twitter ad behind the commercials.. also the Google+ social network just kicked off this should be exciting to see what happens.

  83. Lemmingseo2 says:

    We have to be careful with the social media about our privacy. I’m not sure that’s a good things …

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