In order to run successful social media campaigns and have an effective social media presence, you need to have good social media staff who understand digital spaces, are skilled at digital communication and understand your target market.
But that is not enough.
For social media to work well for an organisation, it is essential that managers and senior staff understand, at least on a basic level, what it is and how it works, and most importantly that they support their team. Often this “team” is one person managing the expansive digital landscape alone, and they need the leaders of their organisation behind them to make their presence count. But a lot of social media staff find that, when they turn around, there is no one there.
The following are the most common ways in which leaders in an organisation can hang even the most talented social media officer out to dry, and shoot their organisation’s online persona in the foot.
1) Being too slow to respond (or not responding at all)
However, good your social media team are, there will always be some questions they can’t answer. They are not the great oracle of all things, and they don’t determine policy. If someone asks a question on Twitter or Facebook and it takes several days for them to get a reply, it doesn’t make customers think that this organisation cares about them or that it’s on the ball. That’s not great. If someone makes a criticism of the organisation, raises a sensitive issue with a point of policy or raises a pressing concern of national importance and it takes days or even hours to respond, then that could be fatally damaging to your organisation’s reputation.
A case in point: a national charity recently had a PR disaster when a volunteer was named as a representative of the charity whilst acting against pretty much everything they stood for. Twitter erupted, demanding answers. The social media officer was, it would appear, given no direction and was left to fob people off for 8 hours while they tried to get out a statement. (During this time they also committed the cardinal sin of copying and pasting a standard response to everyone who tweeted them, presumably due to a fear of saying the wrong thing and no guidance on the right thing.) Eventually, the charity made good by getting out a strong response and contacting all their supporters to apologise. But it was nearly a catastrophe, and a good many people were threatening to stop their support for the charity although I have no idea how many actually did. It’s hard to know how much that 8 hours of twitterers sharing their outrage damaged the charity.
Many senior executives don’t grasp this element of social media – it moves fast! They are used to having hours, even days, to prepare a lengthy statement when issues arise. This is no longer the case. It needs to be short, to the point, and it needs to be ready in 5 minutes. If it’s really complex, I’ll give you 10. No more. If your social media officer contacts you with an urgent query on a serious issue, consider it a matter of national importance. Sound the alarm: code red. Furthermore, have a plan in the place in advance. What is the protocol in these situations? What’s the workflow? What timescales need to be kept to? And involve your social media officer in the creation of that plan.
2) Not understanding how to respond
It’s good to be aware of the basic characteristics of the media your organisation is operating in. If your social media officer emails you with a query from Twitter, please don’t reply with a 2,000 word position statement. If the query is from Facebook, technical speak or jargon won’t go down well. If you’re not sure what approach is best for this particular query, ask your social media person. They will be only too happy to tell you.
Furthermore, please do check that you have actually answered the question when you reply. You might want to push your audience towards a particular area of your website or a particular publication, but if the question only warranted a short answer then prevaricating doesn’t make your organisation look particularly helpful or insightful.
3) Not understanding KPIs
Many senior managers will hassle social media officers with the constant refrain, “How many followers do we have on Twitter? … How can we get more likes on Facebook?” Not realising that this is not the point. Likes and followers are, to a great extent, meaningless. Someone could click “like” on your page in an absent moment and then never look at anything you post ever again. The key KPIs for social media for most organisations centre around engagement and/or reach. If you are forcing your social media team to chase cheap likes, you tie their hands in terms of being able to develop rich, interactive, shareable content that will be useful and relevant to your customers and will encourage them to connect with your organisation. You need to sit down with your social media officer and determine why you are using social media and what you want to gain from each channel before you can decide what your KPIs should be.
4) Using phrases like “It’s only Twitter”
There’s no such thing as “only Twitter” anymore. The sooner you grasp that, the better the public perception of your brand will be. Using phrases that marginalise or trivialise social media not only make your digital comms staff feel undervalued and miserable, they grossly misunderstand your customers.
If someone is looking to buy a new product or wants information, the first place most people now go is the internet. Amongst that group, most of them are more likely to head to social media if they have a question or want to see what other people are saying about a product or a topic. Most people don’t pick up the phone now if they have a question, they send a tweet. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s only the “young people”, either. There are a huge range of age groups on social media. As a general rule, the younger people prefer Facebook, 30–50 year olds are more into Twitter, the over 50s are on average more drawn to sites like Pinterest. But that is not a hard and fast rule—I know plenty of people whose grandparents are active Facebook users. Don’t dismiss your customers.
5) Isolating the social media officer
Part of the “it’s only Twitter” mentality involves leaving the social media person/people out of the loop with regards to marketing and communication strategies, upcoming campaigns and policy issues, or upcoming issues that could attract positive or negative attention. It’s not uncommon for organisations to spend months planning complex comms campaigns and then to run up to the social media officer at the last minute and say “could you pop this on Twitter?”
Include your social media in your comms planning and give them an opportunity to develop an effective social media campaign that will complement your other channels and will actually work. At least give them all the information on the topic and its background. This is the first person most of your customers will speak to on this issue—don’t leave them in the dark to be blindsided.
Don’t shut your social media officer in a cupboard. Figuratively or literally (you’d be surprised by how often that is pretty much literally the reality). Let them talk to other teams, let them know about meetings, include them in discussions. Talk to them. If you want to know what social media can do for your campaign and how to make it happen, they can tell you.
6) Ignoring the social media officer
If you’ve employed someone to manage your social media, let them do it. If you’re not clear on what a particular medium is or how it works, ask them. If you’ve been hearing a lot about Pinterest lately, don’t just declare “we should be on Pinterest” and walk off, ask your social media lead if Pinterest is right for your organisation. Don’t complain that they’ve only tweeted once today about your big event that’s happening in 3 months time, ask them why. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. No one expects one person, even the CEO, to be all-knowing about all things, but you’ve employed an expert who you can learn from so take the opportunity to do that. The previous 5 mistakes that I’ve outlined basically come down to one thing: a lack of understanding. So don’t panic and run away, take the opportunity to learn. That’s the only way that you can all move forward together.