Overcoming social media fear

Paul Boag

The reason many corporate social media feeds are boring is because of fear. Fear of making a mistake. But, it doesn’t need to be that way.

The reason many corporate social media feeds are boring is because of fear. Fear of making a mistake. But, it doesn't need to be that way.

Are you responsible for your organisations social media channels? Do you post to your own social networks without concern, but worry about posting the wrong thing to your work networks? If so this post is for you.

Running social media for an organisation is a delicate job. If you stick with announcements and press releases, nobody will follow. You miss the essence of social media. But, if you become too informal you risk getting in trouble with the powers that be. This is why many social media streams are just full of announcements. Better to be safe and boring, than risk the wrath of management. But, it doesn't need to be this way.

In this post I want to help you overcome your social media fears. I want to show you how to gain the confidence to step out of the 'safe' zone.

The first step is understanding that there is no playing it safe.

Is playing it safe an option?

The Waterstones twitter account is a pretty good example of social media done right. With over 90,000 followers, they are doing something right. Yet, it is interesting to note that Waterstones Oxford Street has over 60,000 followers. How can one store have so many followers?

The answer is simple. The Oxford Street store pushes the boundaries of what you would expect from a company twitter account.

A good example is where Waterstones dropped the apostrophe from their name. This is how the Oxford Street store responded:

Instagram photo of apostrophe begging for food.
Waterstones Oxford Street shared the following post and image — “The apostrophe before we took it off the street and sent it to the Brand Retirement Village”

Would you be happy to cast changes to your brand in such a negative light? Would you worry about getting into trouble?

The truth is that people love this kind of self deprecating humour. The above post, along with many others caused more positive feedback than the rebranding itself.

The problem is you have to feel confident enough to take some risks with your social media. Injecting fun and humour can backfire sometimes and it can be hard to know where to draw the line. Worse still, it can be hard to know managements reaction even if a post goes down well.

But there is no guarantee that playing it safe will help either. The National Rifle Association tweeted "good morning shooters" and found itself in huge trouble. The problem was that the tweet went out immediately after a shooting in Colorado.

They were unaware of the shooting at the time of posting, but that didn't stop the backlash. On any other day it would have been a harmless update.

My point is that no matter what you do, social media is dangerous ground, so playing it safe is not an option. What you need is managements buy in on the tone of voice you use. That way if you get into trouble, you won’t become the scapegoat.

Agreeing a tone of voice

When a designer is creating a new brand, he starts by creating a moodboard. The idea of a moodboard is to help establish the tone of the design. Is it going to be risky or conservative? Lively or sombre? Professional or casual?

You need the same kind of thing for social media. You need to agree with management and key stakeholders a tone for your social media interactions.

One way to do that is collect social media updates from across a range of different social networks. Show management more formal updates like the main Waterstones Twitter feed:

As well as more humorous updates like those posted by the Oxford Street branch:

You can explore different types of humour too. Is your brand self depricating or slap stick? Is it political or sarcastic?

By looking at a range of different post types you get a sense of the tone of voice that is most appropriate for your brand.

You can then draw up a style guide including the types of posts that would (or would not) be appropriate and get everybody’s sign off on it.

In this style guide you should also cover what type of updates you will be posting.

Picking some post types

There are many different types of updates you can post to social networks. Some examples could include:

  • Competitions
  • Questions
  • Announcements
  • Humorous
  • News
  • Personal
  • Resharing

Your style guide should decide on a rough mix of these different post types. The reason this matters is that this will set the tone of the channel. For example if one post in a hundred is humorous, the channel will come across as serious.

Your style guide should also consider whether you want to share updates that include video, imagery or audio. It is important to discuss this with management early, because audio visuals are time consuming. If management expect you to be posting a lot of video, do you have the time to create it?

If you are going to include imagery and video, a discussion should also happen about the tone of this content too. Examples need to be found so that you can be sure they remain consistent with your brand.

Despite this, your careful planning will sometimes fail. In such situations some simple policies will provide you with the reassurance that you need.

Establishing some policies

The biggest fear for those running social channels is dealing with a crisis. These can happen for all kinds of reasons. You might put your foot in it online, or it could be something completely beyond your control. Before you know it you are seeing a lot of angry responses.

The best way of overcoming this fear is to formalise the process for dealing with incidents like this. The fear comes from not knowing how to respond. Instead of waiting until you are in the middle of the crisis, make those decisions now and make them with management.

For example, if you were the person who posted the NRA tweet above, what would you do? Maybe your immediate reaction would be to delete the tweet. But, would that come across as covering up the mistake? Should you call a meeting to discuss how to respond? But then again, maybe the delay in responding might look like indifference.

What about people who post updates to your Facebook page complaining about your organisation? Should you remove them or will this just incense people? Should you reply or is that just feeding the topic? Should you ignore them or does that look like you don’t care?

Don’t wait until these things happen. There isn’t the time to get sign off on your response and that leaves you vulnerable to criticism afterwards. Decisions made in a crisis are rarely the best ones. Instead, plan ahead and put some policies in place now.

The poison chalice?

Sometimes running social media can feel like the poison chalice, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of planning and agreement from other stakeholders it can be a lot of fun. To be frank the trick is putting some processes in place to cover your ass. This ensures your choices online are approved by management.

“Fear, man in white shirt with funny expressions” image courtesy of Bigstock.com