Now here's a question which regularly crops up: 'How do we control social media?' Actually, that's the wrong question. A better one would be: 'Should we try to control social media?' And the answer to that is no. A big, fat, no.
Social media. When you strip it back to the basics, it’s pretty much just a series of conversations. People sharing opinions, chewing the fat, asking questions.
And, as my pal Dan Slee would say – ‘being human’,
Which is why I’ve always struggled with products sold by companies which seek to govern these conversations. To control them.
Control your social media activity, lock it down, stop people having their own accounts, put lots of measures in place to prevent staff going off and engaging, being social. Having human conversations.
From what I can see, some of these companies take this control ‘offer’ and repackage it to sell their services by creating a kind of fear of social media. Within the sales pitch you almost sense a belief that, actually, staff shouldn’t really have access to social media anyway.
Why not switch the whole thing off, just entrust your Head of Comms with the task and let’s have done with it.
I’ve seen agencies roll out case studies of where things have gone disastrously wrong on social media, often painting jaundiced views of situations where, of course their product would have saved the day. I can see many a Chief Executive quite liking that idea, to minimise risks, to put a stop to all this social chatter.
It borders on scaremongering in an attempt to sell their products.
But, if we accept that social media is really just a platform for us to have conversations on, it’s worth reflecting on this: Do we try to control our human interactions and conversations on other platforms?
Yes, we might write a script for someone in a call centre to make their job slightly easier and we may agree corporate messages which we would like to share. We train people, we talk about our visions and we try to embed our values. But we don’t actually manage, monitor and lockdown human interactions in our general conversations. Do we?
So, for me, claims and desires of highly controlled social media usage in organisations are flawed.
I’d go a step further and say that they could even point towards a worrying suggestion of not being open and accessible. And if organisations are not open and accessible how on earth can they be authentic?
We comms folks now regularly talk about the need to be authentic. Authentic as individuals, as employees, as organisations. If we manage to pull that off we’ll be better off for it in the long run and, in turn, so might be our customers.
So this type of control has troubled me for a while.
And since when did we ever really control anything anyway – The media? No. Staff opinions? No. What customers think? No.
But we now have agencies peddling their wares based on fear. To protect against reputational damage.
If I had budget to invest in social media delivery, and providing a great service for customers, these products absolutely would not be something I would be investing in.
We’re all human, fallible. We all make mistakes, some of them big, some of them small.
But I’d much rather believe in staff, trust them, invest in them and their development, and let them talk to customers without forcing them into a corporate straightjacket. Yes, of course you need to protect your social media passwords, and not leave them behind on the number 50 bus. But, really, paying out to safeguard a password, to monitor who tweets what, to micro manage staff that you otherwise trust to talk to your customers face-to-face, on the telephone. Is this the best approach and investment right now?
I have been fortunate to get a birds-eye view of many, many organisation’s social media activity, tactics and approaches and I base my view on what I have seen first-hand.
But I wanted to test that view with others. So I asked comms2point0 followers this question: ‘Can we control social media?’ The response was pretty one-sided.
62 said ‘no’
3 said ‘yes’
Not exactly a robust, Ipsos MORI-style survey but, as snapshots go, and from a savvy, online community I respect and trust, it was convincing stuff.
Ultimately, what we are really talking about here is trust. Do we trust our staff?
Or would we rather pay an agency a not inconsiderable annual sum to ‘control’ our social media activity on our behalf.
The bottom line is this: If we don’t trust our staff, I suspect our customers aren’t going to trust us.
And there are no winners there, just losers.
“Being a humanized brand means learning the art of authenticity. It means being genuine, being passionate about whatever it is your brand is and does. Just like in everyday life, people respond most to others who are perceptibly and consistently real. And that's why it's an art, not a formula. Authenticity, in the long run, can't be manufactured or faked.”
Is that really going to going to be possible by micro-managing your social media activity through a locked-down, automated, risk management product?
So, if I had a budget to invest in social media I’d be using it to recruit a talented social media lead who would help to encourage social media innovation within the organisation, to up-skill colleagues and to spread good practice and knowledge. And if there were barriers, such as trust, this lead officer could target them with evidence, with case studies and with common sense.
Two years down the track I’m convinced that this would have been a better organisational investment in social media.
Unless, of course, you’re working for North Korea District Council.
Darren Caveney is co-founder of comms2point0 and vice chair of LGcommunications