Social Media Strategy, Policies, and Pitfalls from the PR Agency Point-of-View - Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona

Episode 12

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Published on:

17th Aug 2021

Social Media Strategy, Policies, and Pitfalls from the PR Agency Point-of-View

It's important to keep your messaging and social media marketing consistent with your brand values and company goals. But how do you do this in a world where every employee, customer, client, and vendor is active on their own social media accounts? What social media policies should your organization have in place in 2021, when the lines between personal and professional are blurred more than ever? What strategies should you use to coordinate your communication across all channels? What are the essential steps in putting together a social media strategy to create content that will inform and engage your audience?

In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk about social media strategies, policies, and pitfalls from the public relations agency's point-of-view.

Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Social Media Strategy, Policies, and Pitfalls"

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Additional Resources

Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Arizona.

Transcript
Adrian McIntyre:

Social media and the ubiquitous smartphone have changed the communication landscape forever. There's no putting this genie back in the bottle. We all have phones and social media accounts. And for a corporate director, communications manager, or executive, understanding the fluidity and dynamic nature of this new communication medium, and I say new, but we're going on 13, 14 years of this, is now more important than ever. It's one thing to have a social media strategy for a company. It's another to think about social media use and practice, and how this applies to your people across the organization. Here to talk about this is Abbie Fink, Vice-President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. Hi, Abbie.

Abbie Fink:

How you doing?

Adrian McIntyre:

I'm well. How much of your day did you spend on social media so far today?

Abbie Fink:

Oh goodness. I'm going to put it at about four and a half to five hours, and I still have about four and a half to five hours left of my workday. So it is my workday. You mentioned the smartphone, which in my Covid world, I have decided it shouldn't live next to my bed at night, so at least if I'm going to be checking in the middle of the night, I have to actually get up and get it. But I would say within about 30 minutes of waking up each morning, in the order of importance is check email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check Instagram, check my LinkedIn profile, and then I do a quick visit to Timehop to see what I did on all of those platforms a year ago or two years ago, and that's probably even before I've brushed my teeth in the morning.

Adrian McIntyre:

It really has become part of the fabric of our life, and there's some people that opine about this, and soapbox whether it's good, or bad, or anything, and I think the reality is regardless of our opinions about it, this is the reality. This is where we are. You are an expert in marketing and communications, in messaging, in developing an audience. You work with clients to figure out how to get the right message to the right people at the right time, to help advance the goals of the company, the organization, and so on. Social media is certainly a part of that, and we have talked about the phenomenon in many different ways, so far, in previous episodes of the show, but one thing we've never really done is drilled into some of the details around setting up a social media strategy, about creating a social media policy to help provide some guardrails and guidelines for employees, and so on. So we wanted to dig into that a little bit this episode, and kind of get some thoughts out, because some of what was true two years ago may not be true today. So what's on your mind? When it comes to social media, you're sitting across the table from a client, you're discussing a possible new approach. How do you get them thinking about this?

Abbie Fink:

Well, you're right when you say that it's become so much a part of our everyday life, and so much a part of business strategy. I can remember times, and not that far off, that we actually had to talk about social media and present it as a tactic or a strategy that you should consider, and we were even budgeting it differently, because it was an add-on or a bonus, or a nice to have. Well, now it is part of everything we do. You can't not have it. And so, even thinking about social media, and strictly from the business perspective, we know that it is an opportunity for us to talk directly with our consumers or the audiences that we're trying to reach, and that everyone, everywhere has access to some platform on the social networks, or as my mother still calls it, "The Facebook and the Twitter." We still have access to these things. And so, it's no longer "Should we or shouldn't we?" It's that "We are, and now what do we need to do about it?" And I think where we have focused so much on developing the strategy, "Which platforms are we going to use? What are the messaging that we're going to say?" We may have forgotten about how it's being used by our teams and by our potential audiences that has nothing to do with the specifics of our business, right? So, talking about the policies around how we do what we do, and how as an individual working for an organization, your digital view is adjacent to the view of the company. There is no separation any longer between Abbie the professional that works 8-to-5 for a public relations firm, and Abbie outside, and the after dark kind of social media that's happening. And so, I think it's really important for organizations that once they've got the strategy and the implementation plan in place around how they're using social and digital, is then also to take a step back and say, "How is our team being represented out there, and does the personal use of social media align with what our business stands for?" Because in my view, there is no more distinction. If I am the social media manager and I'm sharing content as my company, but I'm identified as such, then what I do on my personal pages is a direct reflection on me and my representation of the company. And so, I think we have to talk a little bit about that and what those kinds of policies can mean, and as employees, what should your expectations be about how you use social, and who's looking at them, and does your boss or your employer have the opportunity, and probably does follow you, should you follow them back? Should you be actively engaged with your superiors at your organization? And because you should have your own personal guidelines as well, which helps then determine how best to use these platforms personally and professionally.

Adrian McIntyre:

If we consider that your brand is not what you say, but what other people say about you, the impression that you've left or continue to leave in the mind of your audience, the mind of the marketplace, then it is increasingly clear that your brand is the sum total of the impact made by your people, not just something that was put together by a design firm, and brand guidelines for a logo, and colors, and fonts and whatever that everyone's supposed to follow. Your brand really is the behavior and the experience people have of interacting with your people. And it used to be that if something happened, somebody didn't like something that your company had done, they might tell 10 people about it, and it would take them 10 days to complain to all 10 people. Now a negative impression can go so far, so fast, and it could be reaching hundreds of thousands of people in minutes. So we've got to talk about brand safety, we've got to talk about maintaining the consistency of the messaging, but we've also got to acknowledge the reality, which is, as you said, the boundaries are less clear now, and that changes a lot of things. You wrote an article on the HMA website in 2019, where you talked about social media policies for companies, and we'll link to it in the notes with this episode, but you really laid out in there some of the very clear expectations that employees could have, things that could, for example, be written up in the employee handbook. One of them was the expectation that the company would monitor things that were posted by individuals, and on, and on. But I'm interested to know if this has evolved for you, what your thoughts are on this today, because at that time, the premise was maintaining a clear distinction between personal and professional. You're now saying you don't think that's possible. So what do we do now?

Abbie Fink:

Yeah, I don't think it's possible any longer, and I think if we want to say that we've had social media in the business environment for 13 years, just for purposes of conversation, but leading up to that, certainly the digital generation, right? The generation that came up in that cell phones were common practice, they had various social media platforms long before they were becoming members of the working professionals, right? They had it in junior high, high school, all through college, and that was their form of communication. And so, when we wrote policies when we first started it, it was very clear that these are the only people that are allowed to talk about your company, and that you have to keep all of your social media private, and if you were going to share content on your personal page that came from your company, you had to be very clear that you were, and how, and it was very, very defined. And that meant then there needed to be a monitoring practice in place as well, to make sure if you set these guidelines, somebody has to watch them. So I can remember, and I still do to some extent, regularly checking what my team was doing, regularly checking how we were managing social media on behalf of clients, and I had instances where I would say something, and I'd go back a few hours later and say, "Eh, I don't think that's exactly how it landed. I didn't intend for that," and I would take it down. Or one of my employees would say something like, "I'm not so sure that's really what we want to say." I'm not as concerned about that anymore, and in part, because I think that we all also have evolved and we recognize what that means, but we've talked in the past about how a brand stands for something and the reputation of that brand, and that can the CEO say something, and how that's meant and perceived, and how can you change it if it doesn't come off? And I think we're in this place now where we all go to social media to find out what's happening, and if we hear an inkling that somebody did or said something, we are trying to track it. Where can we find that original Tweet? Can we see the comments, what can happen? And we don't often get to see the apology that's happening, or what led to that particular post, versus where we're at right now. So has it evolved, absolutely it has, but we've loosened the guardrails a tad bit and said, "You do have a life, and so much of what you do personally is part of your professional, and professional lands into your personal life, but keep in mind that you represent us as a company, you represent our clients out into the world, and therefore, you are being held to a standard that we've set for this particular thing." What we also advise, and we say this as you're setting up your social media platforms from the business perspective, is what will you accept on your own platforms? What is the type of dialogue? And I'm not talking about the posts themselves, but what will you allow to come into the comments? And derogatory terms, racial slurs, profanity, I mean, if those do not represent your brand, you have absolutely every right to say, "We aren't going to accept that, and this is what we are going to do about it." Plenty of brands out there don't have a problem with that, and that's their own guidelines, but I feel like you set those that precedent, and you make that decision and you stick with it. I also believe strongly, as individuals, we need our own guidelines and sort of self policies that we regularly support. So for instance, I will tell you, "Don't forget to register to vote," but I'm sure not going to tell you who to vote for. It's none of my business, but I want you to register, and I would like you to vote, right? I expect that my social media will be a place for proactive, positive dialogue. Doesn't mean we don't get into debates, but it's my social media platform, and if that debate goes into a direction that I don't want it to be, I'm going to delete that debate, because it's not my personal brand. And so, like we do for corporations, I think individually, we have to set those guidelines as well. And I often reference, for me, personally, the grandma rule. If I don't want my grandma to see it and I think she might be embarrassed if she read something about me, then I don't post it. It can be put someplace else, done with someplace else. And so, as we have become more ingrained with social media, as it's become so much more a part of our daily lives, we still have to be aware and cognizant of how that's happening. And on one other note on this, it is still for job seekers, part of what employers are looking at when you're in the running for a position, if your social media platforms are public, you can rest assured the HR team is taking a look at what you had on social media. And it's not that you should have a persona that's not you, but be aware that they're looking for culture fit, and they're looking for representation and other things, and that's probably more telling than what a job interview would ever reveal, is how you live your life on your social platforms. And so, live your life, but recognize we're all looking at it, and we're all making judgments as a result of what we're seeing, when it's going to impact the business itself.

Adrian McIntyre:

Given what you said earlier, which I agree with, that it's no longer possible to separate personal and professional, that means you don't have the luxury of popping off and staying anonymous in the way that you would if it was just you complaining to four friends at a backyard barbecue, because pretty much everything is public, and the internet is forever. And my hope and my belief is that over time, this will actually make us all act better and behave better, given that so much is documented, and so much is really here. As we start to really wrap our heads around this, it might have people stop and think, "Do I really need to say that? Do I even really need to believe that? Certainly, do I need to do this thing, given that my digital reputation is so much farther reaching than a personal reputation used to be in the pre-digital age?" Let's transition just a little bit from talking about social media policy, which is important, but also really needs to be customized to each organization's culture, and norms, and guidelines, and goals. Let's talk a little about social media planning, because now that you have some of those guardrails and guidelines in place, you might want to design and execute campaigns. Before we're done, we should also talk a little bit about listening, which is a critical part of social media, but let's talk for a second about designing a messaging strategy. What are some of the core components? What do people need to think about? What are some of the do's and don'ts in this regard?

Abbie Fink:

Sure, and social media in this context then, is part of your overall marketing strategy. It is a tactic within all the other things that you're doing. So, it demands that it have a plan that allows it to be successful. And so, like all of your other strategies, what is your goal for your social media? And social media, the general term, and then more specifically, which platform are you using, and why? What is the expected action that you would like to have taken as a result of whichever platform you're doing, and set the benchmark. "We're here today, and in 30 days, and in 60 days, this is where we want to be." I'm not a big believer in numbers as a measurement tool for social. "I have a hundred followers now, and I have 200 followers tomorrow. Yay me." Well, who are those additional hundred followers, and what are they doing with the content that I'm sharing? So I'd rather have 50 engaged followers than 5,000 names on a list that do nothing with my content. So numbers are never going to be the thing that I think is a good measurement tool. It's more about the actions taken. So, as an example, my team right now is working on a LinkedIn strategy for our company, right? We've been looking at our search engine optimization numbers that are, what is driving traffic to our website? What topics are people searching to come to us? We've got all this data, and we're starting to see a little bit of a trend in referral sources coming from LinkedIn. With very little effort, we're seeing some of that. So we said, "Well, let's do a little case study. Let's do 90 days of a very focused effort on our LinkedIn strategy. What's our content going to be? When are we posting? What's our engagement strategy? How are we going to be talking back to anyone that comments?" And we set a benchmark, "This is where we're at now, and in 30 days, we're going to evaluate, and in 60 days we'll evaluate, and if it's working, what's working, what's not? And then we'll change," and we've got it for a 90 day plan. And we believe we practice some of the things that we preach, so we try some things out on ourselves to see if they're going to work. Now, we've had LinkedIn for years, and years, and years. It was the first thing we had in terms of social media, but here we are all these years later saying, "let's look at it in a very strategic fashion, and how are we going to utilize it and capitalize on what is available there for us, for the type of business that we are?" And so, all of that leads us to this measurement, "what are going to be the things that we say means it's successful or not? What do we want to accomplish?" For me, it's new business development. "I would like to have X number of inquiries about our services." It's not going to be about how many likes or how many shares, but rather, did somebody email me and ask for more information, or comment that the content of that post was valuable, whenever? We've got our metrics that we're going to be using, and visiting it often enough to be able to adjust as we go along. So there are things that are built in the back end of all of those platforms that allow you to evaluate and analyze what's there. So that planning, and we've talked about this now for about six weeks, and we're ready to launch. We wanted to test a few things and come up with that. So when you have this incredible tool, I mean, I've been doing this work a long time. Nothing has changed the way that we do what we do in communications, like social media has. Nothing. And I'm old enough to remember when we went from putting something in the mail, to faxing it, to emailing it, and I thought, "Man, this is amazing. Look how quickly we can get information to somebody." Still the same information, just a different way to get it to people. This social media thing changed everything, because as we said at the beginning, anyone with a cell phone now has a platform and can become a journalist, can become a food critic, can become a movie critic, can be a advocate for a cause, right? So this has really changed the way we communicate, and as such, deserves the attention, in order for it to be successful. And it should be a conscious decision about what we're putting on it, how we're doing it, who in the company is responsible for it, and managing it in such a way that the impact it will make, there's no question about it, is the impact that you need it to do, and not just set it and forget it, and let it just run its course. It really requires careful planning, as well as checking in, and what are the metrics that are going to show you if it's working or not.

Adrian McIntyre:

Yeah. Just to recap some of that, because I think you really hit on a number of key points. And so, just to underline some of the things you said, it starts with goals, really understanding, "what do we want to accomplish, high level?" Like, "why are we on LinkedIn?", For example. "What do we want out of our efforts in that area?" And then I really liked the idea of doing an audit, actually looking at your current analytics, and as you said, you're looking at referral source sources and keywords to your website, "What topics are people searching for that are leading them to us?" Because that kind of insight can allow you to pick some topics, because some of these things never change, like right message, right audience is still a timeless principle. So dialing some of that in and using the data that we now have to do that, and then coming up with a plan to execute for your content strategy. I agree 100% with what you said about numbers, in that there are metrics that matter, and then there's others that don't. And so, things like follower count really is a vanity metric. We've been saying this now for a decade, so hopefully it's getting through to some people that your phone is not going to ring because you have 100,000 followers on your LinkedIn company page, for example. But those kinds of direct contacts, I do think engagement is an important metric, I don't think it's the goal, but I think of engagement metrics, the comments, likes, and shares, as a milestone on the way to the goal. And it gives me feedback, and that's what we're going to talk about next, it gives me feedback about what's resonating with people. If I'm posting content that's getting no likes, no shares, no comments, if I do that too long, I'm beating a dead horse. I should stop. That's not the thing. So engagement's not the goal, but it is an indicator that this is resonating with people, and that feedback loop is so important. Let's talk about that. How do you use social media for listening, for engaging with an actual conversation? How do you be social on social?

Abbie Fink:

Well, and I love the listening question, because it is the other half of the equation, right? Social media cannot just be outward and a billboard for your company, right? Yes, it is an information channel, it pushes content out, but it is also coming back, and unlike any other medium, it really does come back to you. I mean, there is this opportunity, and so, we have to pay attention to what is being discussed, how we're being portrayed outside of the channels that we control. I mean, I can put something out on Twitter. If it gets retweeted and someone puts their own comment on it, and then it keeps going and it keeps going, what is that? What is that saying? And so, this is what we learned as kids, right? We have two ears to listen, to pay attention, and so, it's not unlike that in the business world either. Paying attention to what's being said, using that information to challenge your current strategy. As you said, if I write something which gets no reaction or nothing happens to it, doesn't mean it's not right, it just didn't land the way it needed to with who I'm trying to reach, so what do I do to change that? And if we listen, actual listen to the content and react accordingly, we grow and we move our brand forward, and we continue that engagement, and we do that. Now, we can set aside a lot of the drama that happens in social media, but if we're looking at, and we're getting feedback from customers, if I'm a restaurant and I'm on Yelp, or OpenTable, or any other review site, and I am seeing consistent about, "This item isn't good," or "Service wasn't up to par," I'm not going to get any better feedback than that. Jay Baer, who is really a recognizable authority on social media, was really an early adopter. He said something once, and it was brilliant. He said, "If you have crappy service, Twitter is not your problem, right? Twitter's just the means by which you might've learned you have crappy service, but you had the crappy service in the first place, and Twitter became the way that somebody decided to tell you." So rather than get mad at the platform, use it to look inward and say, "How can we change? If this is consistent, I'm hearing regularly on these platforms that this is happening, then I need to fix it." Conversely, you'll hear good things as well. "Adrian was a fantastic server." Well, you know what? Adrian deserves a promotion then, right? Adrian deserves a raise, if everyone is talking about it. So use these platforms as well, to learn and to hear from your clients, hear from your competitors what the marketplace is like, and react accordingly. Don't get in there and start arguing with them, but listen to what they have to say, and use that to your advantage.

Adrian McIntyre:

I teach a workshop on Listening in a Noisy World, and the focus of it is primarily on interpersonal communication and actually listening to the people that you're in proximity with, but it extends directly into what you're talking about, and one of the points I make in the workshop is so relevant here, and that is, you need to be conscious and intentional about who you listen to and what you listen for. So it's not enough to simply say, "I'm listening to you. I'm hearing you." You also want to be listening for their experience, listening for their emotional state, listening for the commitment behind it. So somebody who is complaining about your brand on social media might actually be really committed to your brand being better, and if you only take the complaint at face value, you're missing the goldmine that's available there, because they're telling you without saying so sometimes, that what really matters to them is the quality of X. And if enough people are saying that, in whatever way they do, if you're listening for what's underneath their words, you might have one of those insights about how to make your service or your product better like, "Oh, people really care about this thing." But if you're only looking at it as complaints, negative reviews, if your ego is looking at that as, "These people don't like me," you're going to miss the value there. So listening to the right people and listening for the right things.

Abbie Fink:

It is an incredibly powerful tool both ways, right? So the engagement, so the customers have taken the time to share with you good, bad, or otherwise, through a social platform. What are you doing as the business owner to respond? And as followers of your brand on social, I'm also looking to see how you react to whatever that might be. If there's a thread and you're not in it, I have to wonder how much you care about what's happening. And again, I'm not looking at you to get antagonistic or argumentative, you have to be smart about what you're saying, but where are you in that dialogue? And I tell clients all the time, whether or not you choose to be on a social media platform, you can assume you're going to be there anyway, because someone's putting you there. Someone's talking about you, they've shared an article that you're mentioned in, something's happening, whether you choose to be there or not. But being there means participating, and to your point, also means listening to what is happening, and listening to and listening for those telltale signs about what is good about your brand, and what could be improved about your brand. And again, there has been nothing that has given us that power as consumers in much the same way as what social media has done. I mean, yes, we've all walked in and, "I will never shop in your store again," and pound the table. Great. Maybe the cashier and the three people in line behind you, and that's it, and quite honestly, they don't care if you don't shop there again. But if that same statement gets made on social media and then pile on, pile on, pile on, well, now you have to pay attention. And the same thing, if you go and you say, "You know what? I had fantastic service at your," fill in the blank, "And I am just so thrilled that I had..." Well, again, that manager heard it, maybe the three people behind you, but no one else did, but when you take it to Facebook, or Twitter, or any one of those platforms and said, "I had such an incredible experience at," well, my followers who I engage with, trust me, say, "Huh, well, if Abbie thought XYZ was pretty special, I'm looking for a place to take my spouse for a special occasion restaurant. I'm going to give that place to try," and all of a sudden, you've started to build that sense of credibility. Now, taking it all back to kind of where we started, and policies and guidelines, and where does the social media fit into your marketing plan and your strategy, I think if you've listened to us now for the last half an hour, it kind of comes down to the same thing for me, which is a powerful tool that is a critically important part of your marketing communications strategy that requires the same amount of attention, and planning, and strategy, and adjusting as any other tool that you use to grow your business, and that the members of your team, who are either tasked with it as part of their responsibilities, or serve as brand ambassadors and utilize their own personal platforms to enhance your business, social media is such an important part of your business that it demands the kind of attention that any one of the other things you're using, and with it, and done correctly, and with careful thought, and planning, and response, it will be a successful tool for your business.

Adrian McIntyre:

Abbie Fink is Vice-President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations, the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. She and I are on social media, find us there, find our LinkedIn profiles. Go look at HMA Public Relations on LinkedIn, drop a note. Tell us what you think about the show. We'd love to hear from you, we are listening. Thanks for joining us for this conversation.

If you enjoyed today’s show, please find and follow Copper State of Mind in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. You can also find the show online at HMAPR.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Copper State of Mind.

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About the Podcast

Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona
Public relations, media, and marketing strategies for communicating effectively in today’s business climate from Abbie Fink of HMA Public Relations, Arizona’s longest-tenured PR agency.
Copper State of Mind is a public relations podcast for Arizona executives, business owners, and directors of marketing and communications who want to increase the effectiveness of their PR, media, and marketing campaigns.

From messaging and media relations to content strategy and crisis management, the dollars your organization spends on integrated marketing communications are an investment that helps boost your brand, break through the noise, and drive business results.

Join Abbie Fink, Vice President/General Manager of HMA Public Relations, and Dr. Adrian McIntyre, cultural anthropologist and storytelling consultant, as they explore today’s communications challenges and share insights, stories, and strategies to help your message reach its target audience.

Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications agency in Phoenix and the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. With more than 40 years of experience helping clients tell their stories, HMA Public Relations is committed to your success. Learn more at https://hmapr.com

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, AZ. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Abbie S. Fink

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Abbie S. Fink is Vice President/General Manager of HMA Public Relations, the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

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Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.