Too many communications departments are focused on providing real-time responses.
We live in a 24/7 world. Our customers and supporters come at us any time of day, from multiple local or global locations with their accolades, issues, complaints, and questions. Supporters using multiple channels of communication, especially online, further complicate this scenario.
As a result, businesses and organizations react by trying to be everywhere at once, all the time. Even with a strategy, this is unsustainable for those of us without bottomless pockets.
So what is there to do?
First, let’s accept that there will always be outliers—people who post in places where we do not have a presence and complaining about things we would rather were kept locked away. This will not change, and given how quickly people produce and sign up for new online platforms, their options will grow.
Second, we all always face limited resources. You may love those employees that never turn off their cell phones, send updates around the clock, and seem to reply to every post, email, and phone message. They’re great—and they’re burning out. Those twitches aren’t normal, and the more fluorescent liquid they pour down their throats the faster they’ll crash.
So you have your strung out “Web people”—as your board refers to them—and you feel like you’re being attacked from just about everywhere. Many of us feel this way, even the big companies. So how do you respond?
Step 1: Pick your platforms.
If you’re like me, you sign up for every new beta test that presents itself. I don’t know how many logins I have, but I know which ones I use every day. This is key and an old lesson: Pick your medium.
The public will choose which platforms become the most popular, but that doesn’t mean you have to be on every one. Believe it or not, Twitter is not made for all brands, neither is Facebook. Some organizations have incredible success using LinkedIn.
You need to be where you need to be. So determine which platform is tailored most closely to your goals (and which one is second, third, and so on), and how many resources you can assign while leaving room for responding to those pesky outliers.
Step 2: Be present.
So now that you have your list of where you can be, go and be there. Create content blending a newsworthy style with your marketing goal and see what works. There isn’t a formula for this. See how much of each you should mix together until you find the right mix. Don’t worry; your audience will help you along the way.
Step 3: Lead.
As you gain trust and attention, how about you lead the conversation? You aren’t just another organization like all the others, right? You have something no one else offers, right? If the answers to those questions is “no,” you should revisit your business plan—but that’s another story.
Mine your data, identify trends, and put them out there. Make your content as unique as your products, and let people know. Stop always trying to please your followers and take the reins. Be confident enough to lead the conversation. You won’t always be the most popular, but social media really should not be a popularity contest. If you disagree you may be doomed to being the online equivalent of the tag along no one wants around.
Step 4: Steer.
Don’t forget those outliers. Go ahead and meet them on their own turf. Let them know they are being heard and, this is very important, steer them back to your platforms. Be honest and let them know you can’t be everywhere at once. Tell them where you can be found and how they can best receive a response.
I know some people will say, “You need to have a presence where people are.” While this is true, I would hope that you still monitor the biggies to avoid a widespread crisis. However, you also need to know how to prioritize platforms and content. Everything is not as important as the next.
Step 5: It’s nothing new.
Everyone got all crazy with social media. It’s not a mystery if you can put it in your terms. Sometimes it helps people to think of each platform as a gathering, a party with different guests speaking a shared language. Find your own way to conceptualize platforms. Remember that each is nuanced and cannot be put in a neat box. There are shades of grey and you need to be aware of them because these shift continuously as the party conversation ebbs and flows.
Step 6: Stop trying to be popular.
Seriously, stop. Remember when your mom told you that it’s not a popularity contest and that you should be yourself? And then when you were older you understood exactly what she meant? Well, why did you forget that bit of advice when you went online?
People love authenticity. Be real. It sounds lame, but be proud of who you are and what you have to offer. There will be bumps along the way, but if you stay true to yourself you will avoid the worst pitfalls of online communications.
Also remember to continue learning. There are people out there who are smarter than you. Ask them questions; listen to their responses. They’re social—you should be, too.
Brian Adams consults with nonprofits, including Komera Project, regarding communications strategy. Brian was previously senior director of communications at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the head of media and community relations for the MSPCA-Angell. This story first appeared on Medium.