It’s OK to Live – Social Media is By, For, and About People

A parody of the final scene from Soylent Green, where a bloodied hand is holding up a smartphone, and the text reads, "Social Media... is... people."

When you're moving at the speed of business, it's OK to pull over and take a few minutes to enjoy the scenery. We all need to remember, if I may paraphrase detective Robert Thorn, "Social Media is People."

Social Media and e-commerce have brought some amazing benefits to our lives: they've made it easier for us to connect to people and brands (how superficial that connection may be is a blog for another day); they've made it easier for us to access products from all over the world; and they've made it possible for us to learn and explore. They've also put undue pressure on businesses to respond.

There's no one-size-fits-all guide to using social media. Certain companies have more resources to devote to it. But just because you don't have the luxury of 24/7 coverage doesn't mean you should get out of the game. Sure, major corporations may be able to have multiple people handling around-the-clock monitoring of your social networks. Or maybe you've engaged an agency to do that work on your behalf. But most companies -- both large and small -- simply don't have that luxury.

Simply put, you can't be beholden to unrealistic expectations. It's OK to handle social media like real life.

If a customer shows up at your door at midnight and leaves a nasty note complaining about service earlier in the day, should you be chastised for not checking your mailbox every five minutes? No. I feel the same way about your social networks.

It may not be a popular view. The social gurus, wizards, and masters of the universe may not agree with me, but it's reality.

Most companies don't have the luxury of assigning a staff member exclusively to social media. Often it's wrapped up in a communications or marketing co-ordinator's portfolio. And that's not exclusive to the mom and pops out there -- I personally was exclusively responsible for a multi-million-dollar Canadian company's entire social networking efforts.

But when I was out with my daughter, there's no way I was checking my social feeds. When we are out, my focus is 100 per cent on her; not a little screen in my hand. And do I feel guilty about it?

Not in the least.

It's easy to dehumanize corporate social efforts. We look at them as feeds or pages; we know them as @ handles not names. We interact with them as brands, not living breathing, humans. And we forget that behind each and every social network there's a person, or people.

People with lives; people with celebrations and sorrows; people with families, significant others, and personal interests. They're people who are allowed to live life.

Obviously, there are varying degrees of expectations. If you're responsible for a social network, it's probably good to check it a couple of times, even if you're not working. And that's especially true if you're using your corporate social feed in non-traditional working hours (say, for example, to live-Tweet from an event with which your company is affiliated).

And technology makes it possible for you to stay in the loop. From push notifications on your mobile device to on-line services that enable you to monitor and post to multiple accounts at the same time (just be vigilant about making sure you're posting to the right one? Right @USOlympic? 

But don't be afraid to live. Social media is about connecting people – and it's vital that we all respect the fact there are people behind those social networks.

Just as I recommended with blogging, it's fair to set expectations up front (either in your profile or in regular posts) so that your customers – both existing and potential – know what to expect.

Feel free to set response times

"We'll get back to you in one business day, two... etc." Just make sure you live up to those promises.

Don't pre-schedule posts/Tweets if you're not going to be around to monitor them

There are exceptions: holiday greetings/closure notices are OK to preschedule. But seemingly positive or innocuous comments like, "It's a great day today, isn't it?" can look horribly insensitive if there's a tragedy somewhere in the world.

Feel free to set expectations

It's OK to not take reservations, bookings, or requests on social media. It's OK to direct customers to other calls to action (call us, etc.) But explain why. A simple, "To avoid any inconvenience, we'd prefer if you called us at [insert number] to reserve. We may not see your Tweet in time."

Dedicate resources to social media monitoring

Allow your employee or employees (or yourself) some time each day to keep an eye on the conversations that are happening both on and off your channels. Remember, not every positive or negative thing about your brand will be posted on your brand pages – and it takes time to search for and monitor other conversations.

Monitor and post almost every comment

It's perfectly acceptable for you to not allow all comments to your blog or Facebook feed to go live immediately. That said, unless there's something libellous, racist, sexist... pretty much any "ist," you should release them as soon as possible. Good or bad, customer feedback is an opportunity.

Respond as soon as you can

Things take time. If someone asks you a question or criticizes something you're said or done, you don't have to have all the answers at your fingertips. It is perfectly acceptable to say, "Let me look into this and I'll get back to you as quickly as possible." Most reasonable people will accept that. Now, again, you have to live up to your promises, but you can mitigate a lot of dissatisfaction and anger by just acknowledging that you're aware, you've seen your customer's concern, and that you're committed to taking action.

Post regularly

I said you don't have to be glued to your social sites 24/7; but that doesn't mean you should let it lie dormant for weeks and months on end. If you're going hang your social shingle, at the very least ensure that it doesn't grow cobwebs.

The greatest fear any social networker has is a firestorm raging out of control when they're off the clock. It doesn't take much in this social environment for an ill-advised comment to turn into a virtual forest fire – and there are a whole bunch of people out there who love nothing more than to fan the flames. Again, the best practice is to not Tweet anything controversial if you're not following along for the aftermath. And here are my two tests you can do to tell if something may cause a problem.

The 30-second test

Wait a bit before you click post or send. It's in the heat of the moment where we can self-inflict the most damage. Is it worth replying to that critic with sarcasm or by swearing? Is your statement going to elevate your brand (personal or corporate, it's all the same) or drag it down? Can you think of a better way to respond? It's amazing what can happen in 30 seconds. Give it a try; and

The Groany-Laugh Test

You know that tweet you think will be hilarious? Try it out on a couple of people first. If they laugh without reservation, you're probably safe. If they groan and chuckle – maybe even add, "That's so bad..." in that gentle "I know I shouldn't laugh but it's still funny" way -- then rethink it. If you're getting that kind of response, you're opening up the door for a lot of people to get offended. Listen, there are people out there who are prone to finding offense everywhere. That's a fact of life and there's little you can do to prevent that. It's all about risk/reward – and if you have a post or statement that's going to potentially offend a lot of your customers, or potential customers, then it may be worth revisiting whether that comment is going to make your brand the real joke.

Your thoughts? I feel that just because the Internet is on 24/7 doesn't mean you have to be. After all, social media is about people; people who have the right to live their lives.

Questions Answered

Do I have to check my corporate Twitter account all the time?

How fast do I have to respond to social media posts?

How much time do I need to spend on social media?

How do I keep up with my social media feed?



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