Michigan Saves has a 21st century approach to energy use — less is more — so it should be no surprise that our approach to marketing our services is equally modern. Smart Energy asked Michigan Saves’ social media guru, Anna Schroen, to detail our strategies and results.

Anna has been with Michigan Saves since September 2013. She loves NPR, her cat Fischer, baby carrots, pleather, Beyoncé’s music, and helping people on planet Earth connect easily with each other.

Diving into the rough-and-tumble world of social media can give pause to the most aggressive and adventurous business or nonprofit. The field is, by nature, public; your successes, or failures, are not only visible, but quantifiable. When I joined Michigan Saves, our presence in the social media world was all but nonexistent. Several rookie mistakes (syncing Facebook with Twitter, sporadic posting “schedules,” missing people’s attempts to interact with our posts) taught me that no one really had the time to curate interesting content and be a voice for social media outlets.

I asked for the responsibility to change that.

Now, social media techniques are second nature to me. Michigan Saves is reaching a growing number of homeowners and businesses eager for innovative financial solutions to help them invest in their property, as evidenced by a major increase in our Twitter followers and an approximately 100 percent increase in our interactions on Facebook.

This transformation from uncertain novice to adroit advocate is built on two key concepts: content and voice. They may seem basic, but I find that many people don’t know where to begin when they’re building a brand from the ground up on social media. Before all else, you have to define your voice — how you want to sound and how you’ll interact with your followers. This is crucial for deciding what kind of content you want to produce and share.

It helps to write out your thoughts and ideas for how you want to appear in social media. And, of course, be sure your institutional goals are clear. That’s exactly what I, with the help of my fellow Michigan Saves staffers, did after that rough start. Eventually, our goals and vision for Michigan Saves coalesced around these points:

To inform:

Our audience about our programs, what we’re doing, and what’s happening in Michigan.

To engage:

Immediately with our customers (broadly defined) to demonstrate that we’re fully conversant with the local/national conversation on energy efficiency.

To build:

Influence by demonstrating we are experts, thereby earning trust and raising our profile in communities across the state.

To personalize:

Our image. The language is dressed down, but still professional, personable, and approachable. It’s clear that there’s a real person behind the posts, and that the person is paying close attention to what is happening in the world.

Lofty goals? Sure, but concrete enough that there is a clear path toward reaching them — and that is helpful with everyday posting.

Each day, I tweet three or four times, and post on Facebook once or twice. It’s typical for us to get a couple of likes on Facebook and a retweet or mention on Twitter each day, too. We get about five new followers on Twitter every day. We have 292 Twitter followers (@MichiganSaves) and 269 likes of our Facebook page (facebook.com/MichiganSaves). Since social media are only a portion of my duties at Michigan Saves, I spend about 45 minutes a day engaging with our online community, and always learn something new or get a laugh or smile out of it.

Audiences, of course, were another key consideration in focusing our efforts. I sought out the leaders in energy and environment news, and let them lead me to other people and organizations I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Remember: If you find a person or company on social media you admire, look into the people who follow them or like them and follow/like them back. Chances are, some will follow you back in turn and you’ll build your audience.

For an organization like Michigan Saves, and maybe your organization, too, social media are more than means of self-promotion and brand boosting. Social media are avenues of accessing and growing the energy efficiency community. We’re not as sexy as renewables and we’re not as cute as panda bears, but we are still an immensely important sector of the green economy. Social media help those of us who do air sealing, efficient furnaces and other, nerdier pursuits (What the heck is an “installment purchase agreement” anyway?) create a community that anyone can contribute to and learn from. The more accessible, connected, and in touch we are with each other and our customers, the more effective we will be.

In the end, starting slow is a great way to get your feet wet in the social media arena. As long as you’re continually building your audience and creating and sharing content that people interact with, you’re on the right track.