6 Lessons From 10 Years Managing Social Media
“Mary is a horrible boss. She still owes me money. Her restaurant violates county health codes and I was fired because I reported her. Heartland Grill should be immediately shut down because of mismanagement and health code violations.”* posted by Sheridan Wilson.
I read this post on Facebook after receiving an alert while driving. I called the owner and told her about the post. “Sheridan was fired because he embezzled money,” Mary said. “He’s been embezzling money for almost a year. I caught him in the act and fired him on the spot.” I had already deleted the post on Heartland Grill’s Facebook page. “I also had to fire his sister because was in on it.” After ending the call, I banned Sheridan’s sister, Charice, from the page. (*Names changed for privacy.)
Facebook was in its infancy and I had started a business managing Facebook pages, e-mail newsletters, and websites for small to medium-sized companies. Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist in 2009 and Facebook would go through major changes in response to shifting consumer media consumption patterns. I never imagined spending days researching sticky content, reviewing analytics, editing images and video for social media management campaigns.
I had spent over 20 years in marketing and communications as an editor, writer, creator, strategist, and manager. I started my career as a reporter for a daily newspaper and segued into public relations, running publications, scriptwriting and managing communications for higher education, non-profits, and businesses. Folded into this career path were stints as a freelance writer and editor to earn extra money.
I’ve enjoyed some wins in social media management and battled frustrations with some fails in retrospect. I’ve learned the hard way the recipe for success and failure in social media. The recipe can change anytime without notice with new ingredients such as a new algorithm or unexpected features rolled out on a social media channel. I hope these lessons create a shortcut for you to effectively use social media.
1. Online must meet offline for the greatest success. The gap between online content and offline experience is a critical weakness in a social media campaign. One win I had was when I created a Facebook page for Santa. At that time, there were no Santa pages on Facebook. I was helping a friend grow his Santa business and suggested starting a Facebook page. I created the page and then sent out a news release to area media. Within five minutes, I got a call from a news reporter who wanted to interview him immediately. This was in early November so I knew that the Santa page would be a great holiday story. Santa was interviewed by several reporters and a local newspaper adopted him as their spokesperson for Santa. The online Facebook page bridged by offline media coverage was a win. He got a steady gig from the visibility.
I also managed a Facebook page for a woman’s magazine which had 200 fans at the time. The woman’s magazine was completely online but tied to a brand with a strong offline brand with millions of fans. With consistent posting, exclusive Facebook live broadcasts and interacting with the fans, the page grew to over 4,000 fans and followers. I received inquiries from companies that wanted to advertise. Eventually, a quarterly print publication was created and mailed to fans. The brand was the bridge for the online Facebook page which pushed content from the online magazine.
I’ve also had plenty of fails because of the disconnect beyond my control between the online social experience and offline reach. One failure was a temporary storage company which wanted to increase their fan base by giving away tickets to a major league baseball team. I didn’t have a budget to boost posts and the company didn’t promote the giveaway within its current customer base. The logic was the company wanted to attract potential customers so why promote the giveaway to current customers? I understand the logic but thought the current customer base could share the stories of their great experience with the brand on their social media and boost the visibility of the ticket giveaway contest. The contest was a fail.
2. You can’t automate a relationship. A CEO once told he wished that content could be automated in the early days of social media. His wish was granted with the plethora of third-party tools such as HubSpot, Hootsuite, Sprout Social and many many more tools. These third-party tools are so sophisticated that you can now see the clickthroughs on a social media post in granular detail. Analytics is very robust with rich insight into the types of content resonating with your audience as well as the specific day and time of the week.
Cinematic video, beautifully designed graphics, and professionally written copy are a key part of the social media campaign. But you can’t relegate building a relationship with a flesh and blood person to a clever algorithm, bot or app.
Social media is supposed to be social by nature. Social media posts must be a reflection of the company’s voice or personality. When someone comments on your post, you need to reply. I remember being a part of a church where the church never replied to any of the posts on its Facebook page. I’ve always been mystified as to why it wouldn’t comment when someone took the time to write something. I suspect that the church was afraid of offending anyone so it had no personality or voice in its posts.
Interestingly I interpreted the church’s silence on its social channels as not caring and the perceived the leadership as distant. I eventually left this church. When someone comments or shares your post, you must like the post or comment. If possible, connect with your audience through a live stream or offline on a consistent basis. Creating and scheduling sticky content is just one part of the equation. You need to engage with your fans and followers because you can’t automate a relationship.
3. Don’t buy fans or followers. Early in my Facebook career, I would buy followers to boost new client pages. This was a mistake. Those followers ended up leaving and I had to invest time into attracting legitimate fans and followers for their business. Do not be fooled by services that sell followers and fans. When I go to a social media account with hardly any posts and thousands of followers, I immediately think its a scammer account. I suspect the owner of the Facebook page or Instagram profile bought the followers. Buying followers may give you a short-term boost but will delegitimize your message, product or service in the long run.
4. Be on social media for the long game to win. There is no shortcut to the hard work of creating content, scheduling it on a consistent basis and participating by responding to comments, commenting on other pages, sharing and liking posts. Algorithms change constantly and new features are added to social media channels offering the functionality you didn’t know existed.
5. You have to learn constantly. Even though I’m in my 10th year of managing social media, I’m constantly trying to educate myself on the latest features that can benefit my clients. I’ve been on two webinars this last month about crafting social media strategy, creating content calendars and the best practices for certain channels. I’m in a workshop or webinar or reading every day the latest intelligence to find opportunities in the perpetually changing world of social media.
6. Focus on one channel where most of your customers live and maximize every feature available. If I could leave you with one piece of advice from one busy business owner to another, focus on one channel and implement every feature available to promote your message, product or service. If you have to manage your own social media for your company, pick one channel and do it well. If you have the resources to hire or contract out to a social media management company, focus your efforts on the channel your clients engage in the most.
Where social media will be in 10 years is a mystery. With social media being weaponized to influence a major election as we’ve seen the 2016 elections, create movements and revenue streams for companies and individuals as well as be the platform of choice for scammers and hoaxes, I expect social media to be monitored more closely and the gap between online and offline to narrow. In the meantime, do what you can to bridge that gap for a consistently successful experience.