Using HSD to Manage Social Media

Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has at least 12 people who manage his personal Facebook page. And he’s not the only public figure or organization to have entire teams dedicated to social media. How can we possibly keep up and use the power of social media to advance our goals?

This article explores how Human System Dynamics can help practitioners plan and leverage available resources to build a successful social media presence.


People use social media for three primary reasons.

  • To connect with people,
  • To share and receive news, and
  • For entertainment

Because of the breadth of social media’s reach, businesses, nonprofits, and government must engage to be successful. But “What?” “Where? “With whom?” and “How?” remain daunting questions with answers that can vary widely between organizations.


It depends on you. A successful and memorable social media presence depends on how well you’ve defined your identity and how well you can convey that through content and actions. The Radical Inquiry tool can help with this.

At the intersection of the overlapping rings of Radical Inquiry is over-arching your goal for using social media. Do you want to educate? Reach new customers? Serve existing customers? Build public support? Spark action? Or something else? Once you’ve defined your goal, you can describe the similarities, differences, and connections that will create patterns to advance your goal.

What is your world view? When considering this question for your social media brand, consider your mission statement. What topics are you going to create content for or repost from other sources? How do these topics fit with some of the trending hashtags (i.e. #MotivationMonday)?

What makes you different? How will you stand out from other users? This answer will drive both the subject of your social media posts as well as the form (text, video, pictures, infographics).

How do you connect? The answer to this question will also help you determine content and form. Are you using social media to communicate with your customers/clients/stakeholders in a two-way exchange, such as handling complaints? Are you sharing for entertainment? Or education? Some combination? Or something completely different? Different social media platforms are designed for different types of exchanges, which we’ll address in the next section.


The Designing Exchanges Tool can help you figure out which platforms will be most useful to you. Human Systems Dynamics Theory explains that there are four dimensions to each exchange: Length, Width, Direction, and Dynamic. These terms take on specific meaning when you’re planning your social media presence.

Length: Social media allows you to have long exchanges with a worldwide audience. It also enables long exchanges by allowing users to just put information out to the world, such as ads or newsletters, without expecting any particular response. Certain social media platforms are also designed for short exchanges, a quick response from one person to another.

Width: Social media lends itself well to narrow messages. Messages that are clear and explicit. However, the reasons people use social media, for news and entertainment, ask us to convey broad messages. Different platforms are designed for different width exchanges.

Direction: Social media allows us to have both one-way and two-way exchanges. Handling a customer complaint through social media is a successful two-way exchange. On the other hand, a video going viral is an example of a predominately one-way exchange. Which type or what combination of one- and two-way exchanges will help you meet your goal?

Dynamic: One of social media’s primary functions is to amplify messages. Shares. Reposts. Likes. Interestingly, social media can also amplify dampening messages from society. Simply consider the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault have increasing real consequences in real life. Social media’s role is to amplify this shift. Being shamed on social media is actually a dampening dimension for some other person-to-person exchanges. What are you trying to amplify?


Now that you’ve taken steps to define your content and where you’ll post, it’s time to execute. Whether you are part of a 12-person team or the only person at your organization who is responsible for social media, coherence in message, voice, and tone are your goals.

Since you’ve already done the hard work of Radical Inquiry to define the patterns you want to see in your social media brand, you can identify conditions to shape those patterns. Create a short list of Simple Rules that will create those conditions.

If you’re managing social media as part of a team, ask that every member consider the Simple Rules in their part of the process. If you’re working alone, be explicit about the Simple Rules as others ask you to consider sharing their content. Create lists of other users whose content regularly fits your Simple Rules, if you plan to reshare their content.

Finally, keep an eye on your metrics. If you’re not seeing the results that you want, go back to your Radical Inquiry or how you’re designing exchanges and make adjustments.

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