Dos & don’ts for engaging social media audience
In this age of social media, many companies have found great success by investing in their social media presence, managed by in-house teams or communications agencies. Some have also recognised that the public image of their top executives are intertwined with the company’s corporate image, investing time and resources in social media training and nurturing the image of their executives as thought leaders in their fields.
At the same time, horror stories abound of catastrophic social media blunders. In 2014, thousands of people used the #WhyIStayed hashtag to address the topic of abusive relationships and victim-blaming rhetoric, but DiGiorno jumped straight in without understanding the conversation, attempting to hard-sell its pizza. This rather obviously backfired on them spectacularly. There are many other tales of people posting tasteless and outright offensive remarks on social media, resulting in a backlash against both themselves and the companies they work for.
That’s what makes Sree Sreenivasan’s story so refreshing. After overseeing outstanding social media campaigns over the past three years for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as its chief digital officer, the social media veteran was recently let go. Instead of hiding the news, Sreenivasan opted to write an extremely humble note on his social media platforms, thanking his former team and telling everyone that he was open to meetings and opportunities. Having cultivated a strong social media presence for many years, his call for help met an extremely positive reception, with many helping to spread the news and endorsing him for new opportunities.
From this cornucopia of real-life stories, we can draw out quite a few lessons on what works and what doesn’t on social media, both on a brand and personal level.
Here are a few general guidelines:
Rather than showing up on social media out of the blue with hat in hand, Sreenivasan had already been tweeting and posting genuinely thoughtful content for years, gathering respect and cultivating his position as a thought leader. He offered Quartz these words of advice about social media: “You need an incredible support group, and people who understand… you have to build it when you don’t need it.”
A proper social media presence take time to be developed, but ensures that your words are heard seriously and with respect when you do have something to say, and also provides a cushion for any possible blunders.
Do you know of any braggarts in real life, the ones who can’t stop talking about how awesome they are? Do you start tuning them out after a while, or begin outright avoiding them? The same concept applies to social media. No one wants to listen to brands or executives talking about how great their products are, all the time. Instead, content that’s truly interesting and useful for your audience, such as industry wisdom, should be prioritised with self-serving posts sprinkled only sparingly.
Don’t be too rigid
Similar to the last point, one of the best ways to get yourself heard amid the noise is to develop an authentic voice on social media, one which is congruous with your personal or brand image. Don’t be afraid to discuss topics which others might shy away from, such as the failings of a product; people will only respect your brand if you acknowledge issues and talk about how you are or the company is working to address them in the future.
People are also going to avoid an overly sterile conversation, so have fun with social media. Crack jokes when you can!
Don’t be offensive
Having said all of the above, common sense must still be applied to social media etiquette. Anything and everything one posts on social media is essentially broadcast to the world, inviting scrutiny and criticism from all. Consider the story of Justine Sacco, who tweeted an ill-considered joke to her 170 Twitter followers. In the hours following, the internet mob noticed and took umbrage, with many reading her joke as flaunting her white privilege or trivialising the AIDS situation in Africa. The demand and gleeful anticipation of her getting fired became a trending topic worldwide on Twitter.
Perhaps this is more of a life lesson that we can all take away from social media, rather than a lesson about social media itself: show empathy towards others, and that you don’t need to bring others down to elevate yourself.