09.21.2011 | Communiqué PR
By Joni Kirk
Social media has exploded over the last several years. Companies are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube as well as other platforms and tools to connect with customers, employees, stakeholders and the public. With this explosion comes the simultaneous development of best practices for social media.
But one aspect of social media hasn’t been discussed at length: continuity of social media efforts during transition.
Most organizations rely on their communications and marketing team – whether internal or external – to manage their brands. And it’s likely they have a single individual who is ultimately responsible for content and online community engagement. So what happens when that person leaves?
Unfortunately, all too often there is no backup plan. The individual responsible for managing a social media program departs, and the established channels are left floundering. Engagement ceases. All of a sudden, fans and followers realize the organization has “gone dark.”
What’s the worst that can happen?
As one university found out this fall, it can mean losing control of your message and credibility. The individual responsible for managing its social media departed and its social media efforts were dramatically reduced for a month following the transition, including complete disengagement on Twitter. And in that time period, the unthinkable happened. An off-campus student was murdered, and the assailant was known to be in the area.
In a college town, people can text with two thumbs quicker than they can speak. Word began to spread that something was amiss, and rumors began to circulate that a professor was involved. The university’s emergency notification system eventually kicked into gear – the next morning as police action was wrapping up.
But in the meantime, some 10,000 Facebook fans and 2,000 Twitter followers, who were accustomed to timely information about pertinent university topics, suddenly found themselves in the dark and waiting – just waiting – for the university to provide information. The first public information came from the media, but rumors had been circulating for hours. It took until 4 p.m. the following afternoon before the university weighed in on Facebook and Twitter with details that helped set the university at ease.
While this is a worst case situation, and extremely unfortunate for everyone involved, it highlights the need for certain social media best practices, particularly in times of transition.
Have a back-up social media communicator. This contingency person should have full access to accounts, regularly review accounts to be familiar with the community’s engagement, and be ready to step in quickly for planned and unplanned situations. This is helpful for unexpected absences, such as sick days or business travel, and helps maintain continuity in the organization’s social networking communities.
Commit to a regular schedule. Social media should not just be a priority for the individual posting the comments. It should be an organizational priority to have regular communications, and individuals with social media responsibility should be held accountable for providing consistent and current content. A regular schedule also develops habitual “check ins” from fans or followers who have sought out communication from you, and keeps individuals coming back for more.
If your social media channel is going to be “offline,” let your community know. This is applicable in situations where a single person, such as a CEO, is the face of the channel. Sometimes that individual will be offline, such as a planned vacation or other extended absences. It is wise to let people know you’ll be away for a few days and unable to respond. That does not mean the channel should not be monitored by a back-up person. It simply sets expectations that engagement will not be at normal levels.
In a crisis, don’t neglect social media. Traditional crisis communication plans demonstrate the need to communicate regularly with the public. As communication techniques have morphed, it’s critical that social media be utilized during crisis for maximum public outreach.
What are other tips you have for maintaining your social media presence?