A case study showing why it is necessary to plan for social media success before it arrives
It was a pleasant enough gathering of local business people, with ample servings of tasty food and drink provided by the evening’s sponsors, lots of groups in animated chat, so I was not prepared for the rather testy conversation that ensued when I engaged with one of the other people there.
In fact I was about to hear some very negative, even hostile comments about social media. Ironically, the short story I was to hear was about social media success, but with a less than happy immediate outcome.
This is how it went.
An apparently pleasant enough chap, the man I was speaking to had introduced himself to me as the chief executive of a local company and told me a bit about their mission and so on.
In time-honored fashion for business networking events he then asked me about my business.
“Well,” said I “you know Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and all those things – social media? What I do is I help companies navigate that and use those platforms and technologies productively.”
At which point I found myself on the receiving end of some very indignant remarks about Twitter and Facebook.
More specifically, how because of some recent controversy in the local media, on a subject which was of interest to his company, their Twitter and Facebook sites had experienced so much traffic that his staff had been overwhelmed, and – he declared, rather defiantly – he had shut both sites down.
At which point, without any further courtesies, he turned his back on me and strode away in an evident state of anger.
Recovering fairly quickly from my initial annoyance at what I saw as rather discourteous behaviour, I reflected then and later on this experience and the irony of someone having the social media traffic success we all seek and then literally shutting down access to those people who had chosen to become engaged.
He had not said anything about them being hostile to his company – and from what I could gather there was no reason they would be – so the standard problem of how to deal with backlash or negative comment had evidently not come up.
It was just traffic.
And he threw away the opportunity.
Now with the benefit of some reflection I do feel some sympathy for his dilemma: it’s easy to be critical when you are not the one in the hotseat, Monday morning quarterbacks and all that.
I would love to go back and ask him more about the series of events, what he had been expecting when he set up the sites, and so on. But I guess he wouldn’t want to give me the time of day, let alone the benefit of a thoughtful discussion about social media.
So I’m left to speculate about the full story.
But as is sometimes the case with events that are unpleasant at the time, I feel I have drawn much more that is positive than negative from the experience.
- A reminder that, before a company starts engaging with the community, or as soon as possible thereafter, it needs to know its objectives in doing so and those objectives need to be embedded in an overall social media strategy, or social engagement strategy
- The strategy needs to look at rapidly spiking success possibilities, not just crisis management or incremental growth, with resourcing provisions designed to suit a few key scenarios to match those eventualities
- If there is no budget for additional resources, there needs to be some serious consideration given to how the company is going to handle social media success, both of the sudden upturn variety and the more longtail, incremental growth variety
- Senior management who are not social media savvy need to have some rules of engagement established and if there is a board of directors it would be my advice that they be briefed on the overall strategy and on what sort of attitudes, behaviours and responses will be expected of staff – at all levels up to and including the chief executive – in a fast-moving social media engagement scenario
- Shutting down a social web site which has attracted a lot of traffic should not be a first response and ideally not even a response of last resort.
I’m thinking there is a course implicit here, on how to be prepared for sudden and unexpected social media success. Do you think anyone would come, or are disaster scenarios more attractive?
Image credit: Radiohead Crowd, by Samuel Stroube, via Flickr, Creative Commons