Social media. It’s the biggest time-thief there is. So it’s important to make sure that the time invested delivers benefits, outputs and outcomes. How do you know if your organisation is getting the most from it? Well you review your work. In detail.
by Darren Caveney
I’ve said many times that I’m a lucky old sausage.
My consultancy role gives me an amazing opportunity to look under the bonnet of what comms teams around the UK do and my job is to help them try to make simple but impactful improvements.
One of my favourite tasks these past 18 months has been undertaking social media reviews for organisations.
It’s a time-consuming but important activity which always reveals fascinating insights as well as highlighting areas for improvement.
I’m just about to undertake my sixteenth social media review and so it seemed a good time to reflect on the things I’ve learned and the 12 key lessons to emerge. And I thought I’d share them with you, my comms pals who visit comms2point0.co.uk
1. We’re still too BROADCAST
This is a trend which has jumped out from the 15 reviews I have undertaken so far – there is still too much one-way posting on the things which organisations and services want to share. This isn’t necessarily what followers want to read.
Of course organisations want to share their priority work and messages. That makes sense. But there has to be a balance and this balance is often out of kilter.
There is an important, deeper observation here though: Most of the broadcasting isn't coming from the main corporate accounts, it's coming largely from accounts which sit outside of the communications teams. Not always, but often.
I suspect that many busy and under pressure comms teams are struggling to dedicate enough time to addressing this issue on top of the other demands they’re juggling right now.
2. The holy grail. Generating greater engagement levels
I believe that engagement rates should be a measured and monitored – and a target set for organisational accounts.
What does a good engagement rate look like? From the benchmarking I’ve been able to generate I have seen ‘gold standard’ accounts where 30-40% of activity is genuine engagements with citizens and customers.
This chimes with Buffer’s 'rule of thirds' – which I love - as a way of setting achievable content targets.
If you’re not aware of it, Buffer's rule of thirds suggests that an account should aim for:
- a third of its content should be your most important messages and priorities
- a third should be the sharing of other people's content e.g. partners, customers, local groups, charities
- and the final third should be actual engagement - conversations, listening and responding, asking questions, surveys and polls
Really simple, really effective. Try it.
3. Poor performing accounts
In 2017, resource - which includes our time - is just too precious to spend on activities and channels which don't provide a positive return.
Following an in-depth review it's clear to spot a poor performing account. They generally fall into three broad categories:
Accounts which never had the legs or potential in the first place but were set up by a service area. Now there could have been a decent case for innovating with this account back in the day but if it's not performing now it probably never will without something pretty major happening.
Accounts which were once great and managed by a skilled front line officer but there has since been a change in personnel and the new person in charge either doesn't have the time or doesn't have the inclination.
The questions here are simple? Does this account still have potential or not? If so, is there someone with the time and skills to run it? If the answer to both questions is no then close it.
Accounts which were opened because it was the trendy thing to do and a manager somewhere demanded it be opened. I call this ‘getting distracted by the shiny’. These accounts tend to post infrequently, engage very little and don't add to the organisations digital offer. They’re vanity accounts which detract from the genuinely good accounts.
4. Stop flogging a dead horse - Close your poor performing accounts
My reviews have on average resulted in the closure of 10-15% of an organisation's accounts.
There’s a kind of ‘accounts lifecycle curve’ I’ve witnessed in many organisations: Early adoption through to rapid growth up to saturation point and now a decline in numbers. It means that lots of organisations are now reducing their overall number of accounts.
If you’re going to close an account then obviously it’s best to tell the people involved face-to-face and explain why their account needs to be closed. But also tell them how they can get a better return by working with you on their potentially good content and how it could be shared through the main corporate accounts which has 40k followers or likes.
When an account needs to close it doesn't necessarily mean the person involved has failed. It's been good and important to experiment and innovate with accounts - but 10 years in with social media we largely know what works and what doesn't now.
5. Your inbound social messages and questions – guess what…
On average from my reviews around 50% of the messages being received into organisational social media accounts are actually customer services enquiries.
Janelle Barlow once famously said that "a complaint’s a gift". And it kind of is.
But at the risk of stating the obvious, the best people to deal with a customer services enquiry is the customer services team. This has to be addressed – comms teams just don’t have the capacity to do another team’s wok too and it isn’t the best way to get accurate and speedy responses to customers. If this is you get a meeting in the diary with your customer services chums.
6. What makes the most engaging content? Don’t underestimate the mundane.
Now this is where some good old fashioned desktop research - sleeves rolled up, head down - pays dividends. It’s not enough to simply look at the big numbers where, for example, Facebook might point us towards a trillion video views. Let’s face it, they have told porkies before in this area and when just 3 seconds counts as a view on Facebook there is good reason to reach for the salt pot from time to time.
Unless you have access to some really fancy, ultra-expensive monitoring aid then a little number-crunching can come in handy here.
Is it worth it? Yep, for sure. It turns up surprising things.
For example, when I reviewed the multiple social media accounts of a large city council what do you think was the social post which generated the highest engagement rate across a month? Something sexy, something really fun and creative?
No. It was a tweet with a link to a webcam at the council tip on a bank holiday weekend. It generated seven times the average engagement rate for the account. Wow.
7. A social media account is for life, not just for Christmas
Don't get me wrong, I have never been a fan of the ‘one account to rule them all’ approach for an organisation. Front line accounts are very often where the great stories lie. But too often the amount of time it takes to run these accounts well is underestimated. With plenty of content and enthusiasm it’s easy in the early days. But how will they fare 18 months down the track?
That’s when running the account can become harder and more time consuming. If you want to run an organisational account you have to be passionate, creative and committed to it. All of the time.
8. Five core characteristics of a great social account...
My reviews have convinced me that there are five main characteristics and requirements which need to be in place to deliver a great social media account:
- personal skills
- interesting content
- the opportunity for plentiful material
- adequate time given over to account management. Daily.
- sound objectives, regular reviews and meaningful evaluation (which all flow from a simple, effective plan)
9. Four barriers to effective social media – the four ‘T’s
When I survey teams about the biggest barriers to delivering great social media accounts and activity the ‘big four’ almost always rear their heads:
Time, training, trust and tech.
If any one of these four elements are missing from an account then it won’t achieve its true potential.
10. ‘New accounts’ versus ‘established accounts’
It’s essential to have a business case for your staff to complete when they approach you to open a new account (assuming they do ask you, of course)
We should always keep an open mind initially and take a look at the pros and cons of said new account.
It takes an age to build a big following and an engaged audience on social media so the chances that an all new account with zero followers is a better bet than using the corporate page with 50k likes will take some arguing. It should never be an instant no but equally it should never be an instant yes.
The final decision on whether a new account gets the go ahead or not should always, always sit with the head of comms. Write that in your social media guidelines – it could save you some valuable time in future discussions on the subject of new accounts.
11. Pssst. Passwords.
This is really important. Do you in the central comms teams have all of the passwords for every organisational account?
Eek. Thought not, You’re not alone but get hold of them and quickly.
This isn’t about being all big brother, it's simple good governance and sensible risk management in the event of something going wrong, a member of staff leaving or, worse still, going rogue.
12. Innovation – we’re not done with you yet
I believe that it’s in social media where we’ve seen most innovation and experimentation in communications over the past few years. But innovation isn’t just about trying to get down with the kids and opening a new Snapchat account.
Delving deeper into the analytics, using social media on a more strategic level, the smart and creative use of hashtags, and understanding what content gets most engagement from our followers – these are the areas where we communicators can innovate further.
Reviews are fascinating and illuminating. They give the opportunity to really map and understand the social media reach and scope across a city or region.
They highlight gaps for where new accounts, campaigns, plans and tactics could and should be trialled and created.
And they’re a valuable time-out to reflect on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your social media offer.
Right, I’m off to crack on with my next social media review.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via Toronto History