Lessons Learned on Social Media

As social media becomes a more common and integrated tactic, we have lots of examples of “What Not To Do.”  A search on Google for “lessons learned in social media” yielded 63,500,000+ results. There are 108,000,000 results for “social media mistakes.”  So why jump into the fray about social media lessons? Because so many of the lessons learned are tactical, but rarely do we discuss the strategic source of all of these “mistakes” from which lessons can be learned.  Myself and my colleagues at Social Media Club Hawaii are not without our mistakes. Every single one of us has had an “Oh, Oh” moment. But we’ve learned from them and I’ve noticed some core elements to both the mistakes and the solutions. In short, there  are some  business lessons to be learned from these millions posts and Social Media Club of Hawaii wants to start a discussion about how social media can actually improve business operations.

Let’s begin with a couple of assumptions:

1) Social media is inherently dynamic and evolving.
Just when you think you’ve got the tactics for each platform down, something changes or a new platform is introduced.
2) Social media is a tactic, not the solution.
Social media isn’t a stand alone. It’s part of the equation. Any company with more than 50 employees can attest to the fact that once social media is incorporated, lots of people want to get their hands on it. Marketing. Public Relations. Legal. Human Resources.
3) Humans are imperfect at best.
Never made a mistake? Nice to meet you Mr/Ms. Robot.

So how to move forward incorporating these millions of lessons with the above assumptions in a larger, more strategic way?

Most social media lessons have one of three core sources:
1) Human error
2) Over reliance on technology
3) Internal communication and systems

Human Error:

Mistakes happen. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.  In today’s world, businesses of all sizes are having to get comfortable with the idea that a single error, which previously would have gone largely unnoticed, has the potential to go viral. Online reviews expose the best and worst in companies.  In the good ‘ole days when there was “just” the media, a company’s presence was managed through training, planning and control. The first two are perfectly reasonable solutions to today’s challenges, the third, well, that’s getting harder to control. The solution to a lack of control is back to the first two, training and planning, because humans make mistakes. Usually a couple a day.

I truly cringe when I see social media professionals fired as a result of a single tweet, no matter how horrible. If the internal answer is to fire (or hang them by their toes) the social media professional who makes a single mistake, no matter how embarrassing, then, it’s time for the responsibility to match the pay range. CEO’s get paid big dollars, in part, because their job is risky. A social media person is the voice for a brand or company. CEO’s are typically highly reluctant to participate in the social media process, so its arguable that social media professions are MORE visible than a CEO, at least to consumers and customers. In some cases, the social media professional’s exposure is significantly more intense than a CEO.  Shouldn’t they be compensated appropriately if the risk for making a single mistake is so significant?  Sound extreme? Then let’s go back to training and planning. Train for and expect the best. Plan for the worst. And do yourself a favor: hire a communication professional instead of an intern for your social media presence. Knowing how to use the tools is far easier than knowing how to communicate and when to make a judgement call.

The Solution:

Use mistakes as learning opportunities. Making a mistake is a chance to make your brand more human.  Move forward with solutions and find out the core reason a mistake happened, solve the core problem, then manage the solution rather than micromanaging for every single potential mishap.

Over reliance on technology: 
We all love the convenience of technology. But in social media, never let technology stand in for good, solid communication and human interaction.

The Solution:
A good social media professional will balance automation with community building and will understand the difference between the two.  Social media professionals should be part of the process, not the last one on the email chain.  Contextualize and communicate together. Let the tools work for you, but if the tools create a sense of “set it and forget it” then you’re doing it wrong.  Social media is not advertising, it requires care and feeding. Care and feeding is a human’s role, it’s one of the things we excel at, when equipped with the right tools, like…training and planning.

Internal communications and systems: 
Because social media impacts such a wide variety of departments, using social media quickly changes communication in a company. Rather than over complicate, make it easy to collaborate and listen (thank you, Vanilla Ice). Binders full of unread policies and procedures do nothing to enhance your social media presence.

The Solution:
Align your departments and empower them to come together with solutions.

Something else that will impact your internal and external communications: Create easy to understand values for your entire company, but especially your front-facing team and ensure that the social media presence is consistent with those values. Much has been written about the brilliance of Zappos, but the brillance of Zappos isn’t the shoes or free return policy or even their “customer service” per se, it’s the simplicity of their core values.

With core values in place, now, true integration of social media can happen. Integration is where you’ll find the secret sauce.  The secret sauce is your people. Your product. Your story. Let them shine TOGETHER and watch the magic happen.

Allow your brand’s presence to be the very best it can be. Regular, ongoing communication creates innovation and makes the dynamic nature of social media exciting, rather than a problem. And, back to training and planning, give and do the best you can, because as that sage ole dude, Vanilla Ice, said, “Anything less than best is a felony.” If you’re expecting the best from your social media professionals (and you should), the ones speaking for your brand, don’t you think you should empower them with the best?

As an added advantage, enhanced communication will make planning for communication slip-ups easier.

In short, expect the best. Train for the best. Plan for the worst. Communicate, constantly. 

Creating systems around a tactic may seem dramatic, but when you look at how truly revolutionary social media is to communications, its time we consider stepping with both feet forward into embracing potential. There are reasons to do nothing, but the more compelling reasons are in the action column. Starting from the inside out is what “social business” is about.

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