Bookings Segmentation-01

Great minds may think alike—but that doesn’t mean they have to walk in lockstep too.

As a leading Washington-based nonprofit, the Brookings Institution specializes in producing independent research through five programs, 14 centers and 26 projects for an audience that spans the world. In doing so, it discovered that a smart segmentation strategy is the key to success on social media.

Here’s how the world’s top think tank—and a loyal Sprout Social customer—engages with its constituents through Twitter and Facebook and, more importantly, why it treats the two platforms so very different.

Making the Decision to Divide & Conquer

Understandably, the desire to keep social channels centralized is strong for many brands. But with five distinct research programs—including foreign policy, governance studies, global economy and development, metropolitan policy program and economic studies—the Brookings Institution has made a name for itself targeting specific constituent groups. From politicians to public health officials, the organization’s social media team has a clear understanding of who its audience is on Twitter and thus separates its various initiatives into different handles.

As a result, Alison Burke, Brookings’ Senior Social Media Strategist, says the organization is reaching a much broader audience than if it relied on a single feed alone. Through its program, center and project accounts, Brookings has attracted a strong following of more than 237,000 people, so breaking them up into groups for more direct and relevant conversation just makes sense.

“This allows for greater engagement and opportunities to promote relevant events, research and scholars with these more specific audiences,” said Ashley Wood, Brookings’ Social Media Editor.

The primary Brookings Institution Twitter account maintains a Twitter List of all of its feeds, making it easy for different audiences to find the most relevant content stream.

Brookings Institute Twitter Feeds

“It provides more flexibility for covering live events and creating an echo chamber for scholars, 150+ of whom are actively Tweeting more than they’re using Facebook,” Burke said.

As a major part of their social strategy, Wood and Burke use Twitter more frequently and with a more diverse range of content. More direct audience engagement takes place on Twitter as well—with the team regularly answering questions, Retweeting others, live Tweeting events, breaking relevant news and encouraging Brookings scholars to participate in conversations. Wood says this wouldn’t be as natural of a fit for Facebook, where fans might be turned off by an influx of updates in their Feed.

So what is Brookings strategy for Facebook?

“We have found that sharing a broad selection of our most important or interesting content works best on Facebook rather than trying to build up smaller audiences,” Wood said.

There, community members are encouraged to talk among themselves, with Wood and Burke monitoring and addressing any direct questions.Bookings Segmentation-02

One Mind, Many Parts: Brookings’ Advice for Social Segmentation

If you’re interested in developing a similar segmentation approach for your social channels, Brookings’ team suggests asking yourself the following three questions first.

  • Audience: What new audience(s) would you reach with this property that aren’t already served through existing handles?
  • Content: Do you have enough content to keep the feed active?
  • Staff: Do you have the staff capacity to adequately manage the account?

Even if you don’t end up with multiple Twitter Profiles or Facebook Pages, you can still create a segmentation strategy through organic targeting.

Finding Ways to Interact & React

Once your segmentation strategy has been activated, the next—and perhaps most important—step is to engage.

By participating in conversations with your fans and followers, you will not only be building greater brand awareness, you might also be gaining a competitive advantage. In fact, research from Bain & Company found that brands that engage with customers on social earn an average 33 points higher Net Promoter score (a measure of customer loyalty).

To maintain a balance between branded posts versus actual conversation, Brookings frequently engages with influential people who aren’t affiliated with the institution and, through its targeted accounts, asks specific questions around niche topics.

The team also regularly engages with public health specialists, security experts and other scholars by Retweeting their updates or mentioning their work.

Brookings Retweet Scholar

Whether you have one social media profile or dozens, to ensure longterm success, you should set goals and then measure them against the right metrics.

For Brookings, that means monitoring mentions of:

  • Its Twitter handles
  • Its name
  • Specific pieces of content it has published

Tracking these assets keeps the organization aware of sentiment around its work and how influential people are talking about it. It also means Brookings reps are ready to address any questions in a timely fashion.

Using Sprout’s Smart Inbox—which streams all social messages in one place—Brookings also watches what its scholars are Tweeting about and responds to any mentions of their work. The team maintains a quick pulse on these queries by assigning tasks to various staff members across the institution within the Sprout platform.

“Sprout helps us break down silos and manage a large, diverse team,” Burke said.

Segmenting your audiences can be challenging—especially if you have dozens of profiles to manage—but such efforts also tend to pay off tenfold. By providing audiences with relevant content, you’re not only developing stronger connections that lead to increased engagement, you’re also gaining credibility within your community. That’s important for any organization looking to position itself as a thought leader—think tank or not.