I have a confession to make: in my personal life I don't use social media at all. I mean it - I am not on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever else is trending at the moment. I took my first selfie the other day just to see what all the fuss is about, and I am still not sure I get it.
I occasionally joke that I will wake up one day and find myself nominated for Prime Minister by default, because I am the only candidate anyone could find whose every thought and action, controversial and scandalous or not, has not been recorded for posterity - along with the video and photos to prove it.
Maybe it is my age (and let's be clear, I am not THAT old), but I can't imagine anyone is interested in knowing what I had for lunch on the weekend or the cute thing my cat just did. I still, perhaps wrongly, believe if you are a friend or acquaintance and want to catch up we will see each other in person, make a phone call or even use that old standard - email.
Yes I am out of step, but to date my social media phobia hasn't caused me any huge issues. Except of course never knowing in real-time who within my circle is having a fabulous time overseas and posting amazing images.
Strangely though, in terms of professional benefits, I think social media is very valuable. Now I won't pretend that I am a massive social media user for business, but I am on LinkedIn, I tweet, and obviously I write this blog.
What comes as a surprise to someone even as old school as me, is the amount of people I meet who are putting off making a decision about using social media to promote their organisation because it all seems a bit scary.
Clearly, I would be one of the first to agree there are risks associated with using social media to communicate with customers, but the rewards seem worth it. For possibly the first time, outside of media advertising, companies have an opportunity to engage directly with their target audiences and lead the dialogue about their services and products.
The reasons I hear for people 'waiting' to use social media for business purposes include the large amount of resources required, usually explained as a full time staff member to monitor and post; the risk of putting out a comment that invites a backlash; and opening up their organisation to negative comments from the public.
I recently spent some time with a small not-for-profit that was finding social media exceptionally beneficial and they were utilising all the basic strategies I would recommend for effectively using social media to promote your business.
Some things to think about:
1. Consider your audience and their demographic. Is one social media channel better suited to communicating with them than another? Are you using the right ones?
2. Set up a regular social media planning meeting (weekly, fortnightly, monthly - whatever suits) where everyone who needs to be is present to decide what posts you will send out during the upcoming period. This makes it simple, easy and safe for one staff member to post as per what was agreed at this meeting. This won't be time consuming or onerous and should only take a small amount of time out of their normal work hours, even if they are posting everyday (which of course may be too frequent for your organisation). This also means the responsible staff member has clearance of messages and permission to represent the company and a senior executive does not have to be posting or approving if they don't wish to do so.
3. Decide before you set up a social media channel what to do if negative comments are generated. Do you let your audience self-regulate? Do you remove negative comments? Do you have a response plan in place? A response plan should include guidance around how quickly you respond and the steps the responsible staff member takes (i.e. can they respond on their own, do they have to seek advice or approval regarding their response).
4. If you have a strategy, it should be rare that you need to post anything that has not been planned in advance, except possibly in response to comments. However, occasionally unanticipated or urgent issues may pop up. Again, you need to have a plan in place for these instances and everyone involved in social media management in your organisation must be across these guidelines to make sure no mistakes occur because people are reacting on the spur of the moment.
So let me encourage you to explore how social media can support your organisation - whether you are running a public or private enterprise. Maybe if you can consider engaging with clients directly through social media, I can contemplate exploring the Twitterverse one day in the future.