Wise Up: How Executives Can Avoid Becoming Just Another Social Media Fail
Growing older means growing wiser, right? Not necessarily. In social media, millennials and even post-millennials are more knowledgeable and effective than their elder counterparts.
As organizations grow, their social media expertise can’t always keep pace. From Snapchat’s ad that made light of domestic abuse against Rihanna to Dove’s Facebook post interpreted to have depicted the whitewashing of black women to PepsiCo’s CEO hinting at manufacturing woman-specific Doritos, established brands aren’t immune to social media slip-ups. Entrepreneurs and executives who use social media for personal branding aren’t, either.
Before starting conversations on social platforms, executives need to formulate a smart strategy for what to post where. Most people think Facebook and LinkedIn are the most beneficial platforms, according to a 2017 report by Smart Insights, but don't discount Instagram or Snapchat, especially for visual storytelling. No matter the medium, it’s crucial to keep an eye on your narrative and how you want to portray yourself.
Want to land on the nice list? Here's how you can save yourself from appearing on the 2018 list of social media fails:
1. Don’t wing it.
I've seen executives get into social media without a plan, assuming they can master it on the fly. Don't make the same mistake. You know your industry, but translating that knowledge into a social media presence is harder than it seems.
Have you identified your audience? Do you know its preferences and behaviors? For example, if you’re trying to reach 18- to 24-year-old Americans, you should invest in Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter, and if you need to target college graduates, you should gravitate toward LinkedIn, according to data from Pew Research Center. Learning where to best engage with potential customers, partners and other influencers is just step one.
Step two is to narrow in on your narrative and message. How do you want to portray yourself? Make sure your thought leadership ties in with your company's overall social media strategy before you start creating content, and save yourself from having to edit later. Bottom line: Understand what you hope to gain. Develop a strategy for posting. And stick to that strategy.
2. Don’t think your personal account is exempt from accountability.
You're constantly representing your company’s values, and whether you like it or not, the line between personal and professional on social media is murky at best, so treat your social posts as if everything will be captured in perpetuity (because it will).
Remember that video of a medical equipment manufacturing executive berating a Chick-fil-A cashier about the company’s stance on same-sex marriage? He decided to post what he thought was an advantageous social stance online, but when the video went viral, his company fired him for behavior that was not aligned with the company's values. Fair or unfair, this executive learned the hard way that personal social media accounts can have a detrimental effect on a person's professional life.
3. Don’t slack on posting.
Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to effectively engage on social media. Carve time out of every day to focus on posting, replying, resharing and joining the conversation. If you post only once a month and fail to reply to users, you're wasting your time in your efforts to make your name or brand more visible.
To truly leverage these social platforms, you have to be, well, social. If you are not prepared to dedicate effort at regular intervals, it’s better not to have an account at all. Just how much time you should devote to your social media presence depends on what platform you’re focusing on. For instance, while there is no maximum number of tweets you can post each week, you shouldn’t post more than 10 times per week on Facebook, according to HubSpot.
4. Don’t outsource your accounts.
Only one person should manage your social media accounts: you. A public relations or social media team can help you strategize and support your efforts, but the words, thoughts and opinions must be your own.
Just because you don’t have a social media manager doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to use social media effectively. Start by applying other marketing practices to the sphere of social media. For instance, take Coca-Cola’s 70/20/10 rule. This is the idea that 70 percent of social posts should be low-risk (email newsletters, daily social posts, etc.), 20 percent should be devoted to innovative takes on the 70 percent (a special newsletter campaign or a big paid social push, for example) and the final 10 percent should be high-risk and high-reward -- untested but potentially revelatory ways of trying to connect to consumers. The 10 percent comes from things like Pretzel Crisps' social sampling campaign in which the snack maker monitored social posts and then delivered free snacks to people who seemed like they could use a pick-me-up.
Your social account is about you: your expertise, your voice and your words. If you don’t control the narrative and deeply engage in conversations with your followers, you sell them (and yourself) short. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to meet a critical business influencer who has engaged with your Twitter feed only to realize you don’t understand his references to your posts. Instantly, your credibility and transparency disappear. Even if someone else writes your posts, the content should be based on your words, and you should be closely involved. Leave the PR team to monitoring the conversation and providing advice on what's trending.
5. Don’t focus solely on sales.
Avoiding a disruptive or pushy tone is essential on social media. In fact, of the 86 percent of social media users who follow one or more brands, 60 percent reported annoyance stemming from too much promotional content, according to Sprout Social. When in doubt, make self-promotion subtle to avoid sounding like an infomercial.
Instead of advertising or selling, talk to followers as if you're conversing over coffee, keeping the tone authentic, conversational, and informative. As a senior leader, you have a wealth of experiences, opinions and perspectives that your followers want to hear. Keep your social media focused on engagement and advice -- the rest will take care of itself.
But what happens when you commit a blunder? If you post something you're not proud of, the best way to manage your mistake is to own it. Don't just delete it and think the problem will go away -- no spin is fast enough to outrun a social media mistake. Instead, apologize and stay authentic, transparent and humble. Finally, do everything in your power to make amends through actions, not just words.