Tere Stouffer on the Girl Scouts’ Award Winning Content Strategy [Interview]

The Girl Scouts were not only recently named the top nonprofit at this year’s Knowledge@Wharton/Ernst & Young Social Media Leadership Award, but were also crowned the Overall Grand Champion. Clearly they are doing something right.

Girls Scouts of the USA

Girl Scouts on Facebook134k
Girl Scout Cookies on Facebook - 508k
Girl Scouts on Pinterest4762 followers
@girlscouts on Twitter –  22,226 followers

Lists: Top 100 Nonprofits Organizations (On the Web) and Top Nonprofits on Facebook 

 

I recently had the chance to talk with Tere Stouffer, the consultant (and former Girl Scouts employee) who is leading the Girls Scouts Digital Content efforts. It was honestly one of the best conversations I’ve ever had on the topic of social media, and it consisted of me mostly listening. Here are some of the highlights.

Craig: So you have been in this role for about two years. What was already in place when you first came into the role?

Tere: When I was asked to help with the Girl Scouts’ digital content, they already had some basic frameworks in place, but no one was actually doing a whole lot with social media. My role covers digital content, not just social media. But in some ways, social media was the easiest job to tackle because it was the one no one had really invested in yet. So it didn’t have a lot of people saying, “Oh wait, I want it to look like this or sound like this.” There just weren’t those layers that can happen over time. It was nice to be able to come in, pick a direction, and move in it in a real-time, nimble sort of way. Something that nonprofits are not necessarily known for.

Rethinking the Content Calendar

C: What was the biggest challenge coming into this position?

T: Our biggest challenge was content. How to know what we had? How to inventory it? How to repurpose it? How to keep track of it? How do we not repeat it? We’ve got various people doing different things, so how do we not have a similar post three weeks apart because someone else is doing it? As a result, one of the decisions early on was that I would do all of the posting. There have been times when that didn’t happen, but for the most part, that was a short-term way to get our arms around this.

C: Is there a particular calendaring tool you use?

T: We tested just about every content calendering tool out there. My opinion is that there is a huge tool gap out there. There are tools for scheduling social media, there are tools for building campaigns on social media, sometimes these are one and the same tool. But these social media tools need to have something added to the front of them–a true content calendar feature. Most tools have schedulers, but you have to schedule them, slot a post into a date. They are either going to go right then, or they are going to go at a later date, and that is terrifying, because what I needed was a place to store concepts, not actual posts. I had to put in a date to these concepts, but what if I forgot? What if I put it in as an idea and had a bunch of gibberish in there and then forgot about it? Also with schedulers, they are more of just a listing. They don’t look like a calendar. And some include YouTube, none include Pinterest. They are missing the fact that you need to get your arms around ALL of your content, not just Facebook or Twitter. They are thinking in terms of management and campaign, and forgetting that the words, pictures, [and content process] are the important part here. So I think there is a huge opportunity for someone to do that. I think it is going to happen in the next year or two, but right now it is pretty frustrating.

C: So what do you use then to organize your content?

T: What we wound up doing was using our extranet, which is based off of Sharepoint. You can create a community; so we created a content calendar community where each community can put events on a shared calendar. What we love about it, as opposed to a Google Docs calendar, is that each event has a place to put a whole bunch of information. You can write a proposed post and start fiddling with the language, “the post could look like this, or the tweet could be something like this.” You can add attachments, like a photo or the PDF cover of a report. That way when you need it, you’ve got it right there, and you don’t need to go hunting for those attachments when it comes time to put it into your scheduler. Also, a bunch of people can have access to it at the same time. You can make these communities open, semi-open, or closed. You can make many people administrators to add content and edit events–whatever you want to do. It just ended up being like a Google Doc, except we could add a little more content to the actual idea and add images. So that is what we’ve done now. It is very low tech and basic, but no other tools have done it right.

C: Who has access to this tool?

T: We want to be entirely transparent about our content within the organization. We want people to not only look forward but also look back to see what we did. Now we’ve got this thing, so that if anyone wants to view it, we wouldn’t give them admin rights, but we would give them access to view it. We have upwards of 400 employees at the NYC headquarters. If they want to, they can all see it. We wanted it to be a shared document that we live by, and that everyone can see.

A New Social Media Role: Content Scout

C: What roles do you recommend within a Social Media Team?

T: First of all, they don’t necessarily have to be full time, they can be part time or even volunteers. Ideally, I’d recommend different people managing communities from moment to moment, and different people yet doing campaigns. I found that when you are primarily in a community management role, things slip by you. You are not thinking big picture, you are thinking very small picture. The person on campaigns in contrast, is asking what issues are coming up? What apps are we going to do? What contests will we use, what games? That too is different, and is much more of a marketing approach than a day-to-day community approach. I’d also suggest having someone focused on scouting content. And the fourth one is a strategist role. Someone who is stepping back and saying, where do we want to go?

C: Can you tell us a little more about how the Content Scout role came into being?

T: Our Content Scout is a huge part of our content calendar. I’m trying to remember what it was like before she started, and she officially started three weeks ago! Here is why I felt we needed her: We realized we were starting to miss things. For example, we nearly missed the 40th Anniversary of Title IX. This is a big deal for the Girl Scouts. There are milestones as I just mentioned, there were the national holidays, the Girl Scout holidays such as the birthday of our founder (which we were doing pretty well with), and then there were kind of the crazy holidays like Hug Your Sister Day and that sort of thing. We saw other organizations acknowledge those, we were missing them, and we didn’t want to miss them anymore. So we had an intern work with us all summer who is in the publishing program at Emerson, is a Gold Award recipient, and had gone all the way through our program. She is a great writer, a great researcher, and phenomenally organized. She has the skills we needed, and we had the opportunity to offer her a part time job while she was in school. So she is a full time student, but for about 2 hours a day she is doing the content scouting.

C: What exactly does a Content Scout do?

T: Her first job was to do build out a super rich calendar for the whole year with all of the national holidays, Girl Scout holidays, crazy Eat-Your-Carrots-Day-holidays, and all of the upcoming historic milestones. Also included were cultural holidays such as African American and Hispanic Holidays. She put all of these in one place on our content calendar so we never miss them again. We then set them to repeat every year because we don’t want her to have to do the same thing next year. Once that was done, we had her go in and add potential posts, tweets, or Pinterest captions about those. So not only is she finding ideas, she is actually helping feed the content, figure out what our approach should be to those. We told her we probably wouldn’t use her exact wording, but that she saved us a ton of time. We now don’t have to sit there and try and figure out what the angle is going to be, she has already given us one. We can quickly just play off of that.

She is now done with that, and her day-to-day job is developing a list of like-minded organizations on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. She looks at them for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. What do you guys have? What can we share? What can we play off of a little bit? She lets us know this in real time, “Hey guys, I’ve got this nice post from a council that you might want to use.” She is taking a step back and looking at what the whole year looks like, so she can plan ahead, then at the same time provide immediate stuff like, “Hey the White House Project just released a great infographic that you might want to check out.” It is one of the most valuable jobs, and I can’t imagine not having someone in that role anymore. It was the right person, right place, and right need. I can see that as social media continues to grow, a larger organization with a larger audience than ours having one or two or three specialized content scouts. Having different people managing communities from moment to moment and different people doing campaigns.

It is fun being on the front side of this. Five years from now we will be, “Of course we have that role and that role.” We are starting to see things fall into a really interesting set of roles with unique skill sets.

Advice for Smaller Organizations

C: What advice do you have for smaller organizations that might not think a social media team is applicable to them?

T: First of all, we have a pretty good understanding of this. After all, we have 112 councils that may have only a thousand likes on their Facebook Page. We do a lot of social media training with these teams.

What often happens with smaller organizations is that you have no one owning social media and you have a management team terrified of it. So what they usually do is let a fairly inexperienced person come in because that person is young, enthusiastic, fun, etc. Then that person ends up being the voice of the organization. Sadly, this is often in a way that doesn’t accurately represent your organization and doesn’t help move it in the right direction. There needs to be a strategy, and there needs to be very clear guidelines on voice and tone. And you can’t stray from voice…ever.

I also wouldn’t rule out specialized roles. There needs to be clear ownership, but as I said before, the team members can be part time or even volunteers. Start with clearly defined role(s) and seek out the right people to fill them. Play to people’s strengths and make it clear what each role involves and doesn’t involve.

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Related articles: Check out Top Nonprofit’s Social Media Posting Guide which touches on everything you need to be doing at a bare minimum. It also includes links to some additional tools (in spreadsheet and document form) to help with the content process.

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