Responding to Golden (State) opportunities

I was recScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 2.16.36 PMently reminded that publicity is perhaps one of the most important tools for a non-profit organization. Athletes C.A.R.E., a student athlete organization focused on ending homelessness and hunger, received an unexpected shout out from Nick Young of the L.A. Lakers on a recent episode of Cupcake Wars: Celebrities.

This was an unplanned windfall for Athletes C.A.R.E., but absent a plan to respond and capitalize on the event, it would have ended as a one-time happening missed by many.

Fortunately, Athletes C.A.R.E. took advantage of its active social media presence. For non-profits, leveraging social media can mean a huge boost in messaging attention, and even fundraising.

The first step is to post about the event. Take to every platform where you have an active presence and let followers know your organization has been publicly recognized. In those posts, be sure to tag the relevant names and organizations. For Athletes C.A.R.E., this meant tagging Nick Young, the L.A Lakers, The Food Network and Cupcake Wars. By tagging the appropriate parties (and their social media accounts) you widen the reach of your post and expose your organization to broader audiences. Now not only will your followers see the post, but the followers of anyone you tag will see the post as well.

Additionally, you can reach out to your local newspaper and other local media outlets to alert them of events such as having Nick Young reference your non-profit on national television. Something at that level might warrant a local news story.

Finally, you can follow-up two or three more times via social media over the course of the following week, pointing out different aspects of the initial event to extend the message and the reach. However posting more than that will likely be unwelcome. And any additional social posts about the event should be broken up by other content on social media.

With limited budgets and personnel, publicity and social media are two of the strongest tools in a non-profit’s arsenal. The ability to capitalize on and expand your organization through opportunities such as the situation with Athletes C.A.R.E. will strengthen your organization and help spread your message.

This post is courtesy of Cassidy Taylor, Lafayette College class of 2017, Kimball’s summer 2016 intern.

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Why it’s a bad idea to link Facebook and Twitter posts

I sometimes cringe when I see Facebook and Twitter posts/accounts linked. Linking accounts automatically posts the same content from one account directly to another account. My initial thought when I see a Facebook account linked to a Twitter account or vice versa is a robot is running the account. I fear no one is listening to their customers on a given platform if the two are linked.

Brands may think it makes sense to link these accounts for a few different reasons. Someone running the account simply may not realize he/she should not be linking the accounts. Brands may think it saves a significant amount of time and cuts out a step.

Though it may save brands a minute or two, it may hurt the business in the long run. Yet, some companies still link their posts. Below, I’ll discuss why it make sense not to connect Facebook and Twitter accounts.

striatic / Foter.com / CC BY

Here are a few reasons not to link Facebook and Twitter posts/accounts:

  • Linking accounts gives brands a robotic feel. It can make it seem like brands are not listening.
  • Less clicks may occur when posts are the same across networks.
  • It lacks personality. It’s like a machine is just spewing out information and tweets instead of a human.
  • There’s no conversation/engagement when Facebook is linked to Twitter. Brands could be engaging with other accounts and mentioning Twitter handles.
  • Often people pause when they see accounts linked and may be less likely to visit a page.

If time is an issue, which it is for most, take advantage of a social media management platform. This will allow brands to login to one account to manage multiple social media networks. This way businesses won’t have to login to Facebook and Twitter separately. We like HootSuite and SproutSocial for managing our accounts.

Photo credit: striatic / Foter.com / CC BY

Instagram, Community and the Monetization of People

With the recent uproar over Instagram’s proposed terms of service changes, I think it’s time to talk about what social media is and isn’t. Perhaps it’s also time to talk about changing social media’s status from golden calf to useful tool.

As a lover of Instagram, I was unhappy with the proposed changes (at least how they were first written). However, this is not because I expected the service to always remain free and unadulterated by advertising. I enjoy nothing about advertising. Still, I understand social media services are businesses, and as such, are in the business of making money. Instead, I was upset that “users” (the widgets formerly known as “customers” or even “humans”) were being treated as the product. In fact, the entire “Instagram community” becomes a product to be sold. Our digital presences are becoming little more than chattel.

Arguably, this is a paradigm many social media services function from; that is, the customer as both product and consumer. I believe this is a large problem with how social media services are monetized and how customers react to that monetization.

Social networks and their customers need to stop conceptualizing social media services as communities. Facebook is not a community, and neither are Twitter and Instagram. Rather, the communities are the groups of people that use these services to gather, share or discuss.

left-hand / Foter / CC BY-ND

Think of a small-town pub. In the evening, people gather there to talk to one another, sing karaoke and drink. Devoid of people, the pub is just a building. Full of neighbors, it is a community (or a part of it). Amazingly, people pay to be there, buying drinks and food and tipping their servers.

The web is no different. Facebook doesn’t get to be a community just because it calls itself one. It is actually many communities, comprised of real people of infinite complexity who exist in relationships that shift and change.

I think this is why some social media advertising schemes might rub people the wrong way. If the aforementioned pub used fine print to retain the rights to photos you snapped while within their walls, you might be a bit uncomfortable. If they copied the photos and then used them in ads that would pop up in the middle of the table while you were chatting with your friends, you’d probably stop going there. However, you gladly comply with the expectation that you spend money while you’re socializing. In fact, you may even put quarters in the pool table while you’re there.

This is where social media services have it wrong. I will pay for the privilege of being there, and I’ll bet many other people will, too. We will spend a little more to get a little more (like a pool game). We, the customers, just don’t want you to make money off of us in ways that feel icky, like using our photos to create “customized ads.”

This “ick factor” is related to those early, misguided attempts by some brands to enter the social media sphere. This is something with which all public relations pros are quite familiar. Uninitiated brands treat Twitter and Facebook like free advertising space instead of a town square. People don’t want to encounter ads next to pictures of cousin Sally’s new puppy.

As PR pros, we are quite comfortable illuminating for our client the distinction between an acceptable and unacceptable social media post. This should also be true when it comes to discussions of social media monetization. It is not enough to say “it’s a business” and call detractors naive. Success is not predicated on disrespecting your customers. In fact, many argue success has more to do with understanding your audience.

Some social media services and users get it. For example, Twitter successfully employs advertising, with appropriate and unobtrusive sponsored tweets. I find Google search ads acceptable for the same reasons, and I don’t think they’re exactly struggling for cash.

I think we all need to accept ads as a part of our social networking experience. However, there are other models that work for services where ads can be a distraction. Flickr, which has somehow come through this Instagram debacle as a bit of an underdog champion, seems to have understood this for a while. They charge a reasonable fee for enhanced accounts that give professionals more tools and services. New social network App.net also gets it. They are ad-free and instead charge a monthly membership fee.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that fee or subscription-based social media would require a shift in thinking for most consumers. But I think part of the reason we don’t want to pay for social media services is because we think of them as the communities themselves, not a forum for communities. From that perspective, charging for the privilege of using the service seems cynical.

However, we must remember neither Facebook nor Instagram nor Twitter owns our communities. From that perspective, paying for the service seems to be the most direct, least cynical-seeming approach to monetizing social media. Monetize the service, not the people. Social networks aren’t communities; communities are made of people. Social networks are tools, and people have been paying for great tools since the beginning of recorded history. Social media services should be the products bought and sold, not the people who use them.

What does community on social media mean to you? What would you be willing to pay to use Instagram or Facebook, or do you prefer ads? Tell me in the comments.

Photo credit: left-hand / Foter / CC BY-ND

Can your employee social media policy stand up to court challenges?

jimdeane / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Social media policies have been tested in several recent high-profile cases. The case of Andrew Goldman, a freelance columnist for the New York Times Magazine, is almost notorious now. Goldman was suspended from the magazine for tweets to author Jennifer Weiner that were considered profane and sexist.

It’s hard to look away when such a venerable brand undergoes a minor disaster, and the issue has been discussed at length. Over at the Harvard Business Review blogs, Alexandra Samuel ponders whether or not an organization should have such a broad and vague social media policy as the Times does. After all, they claim that it isn’t even written down.

It turns out that such policies may not just be misguided, they may be illegal. In two recent court decisions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set precedents for what constitutes a legal social media policy. I’m certainly not a lawyer, but I’ll do my best to lay out the basics as it pertains to social media and PR professionals.

Protected and concerted

The first case concerned another major brand — Costco Wholesale. Part of a larger challenge of Costco’s employee handbook by UFCW Local 371, this case dubbed certain provisions against social media usage unlawful. In particular, the ruling stated that Costco cannot prohibit employees from posting “unauthorized” material while on company property. Also, the company’s employee handbook included broad statements prohibiting employees from using social media to discuss and debate pay, sick leave and what they thought about the company. Such prohibitions are apparently illegal under that National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), because such conversations (online or off) are considered “protected and concerted.”

The judge’s decision in the second case was a bit more nuanced. This case concerned a salesman at a car dealership who had been fired after posting two unflattering items about his employer. In the first, he posted a photo with a caption that criticized the dealership’s choice of food for an event, which led to subsequent comments by other employees. The judge deemed this discussion protected under the NLRA, and also understood that this was not why he was fired.

In another set of posts the same day, the salesman posted a photo of and sarcastic comments about a car accident at the neighboring car lot. He was apparently fired for the second set, which did not fall under the protection of the NLRA.

Still, in another case, the dealership was ordered to remove unlawful rules from its social media policy. The policy was deemed too broad and restrictive of employee communications, particularly where it concerned “courteous” language and not damaging the reputation of the dealership.

What’s in your social media policy?

Is this making you panic yet? After all, it seems that most social media policies list rules about not discussing sensitive issues like payroll or anything that will hurt the company’s image. Apparently, under the NLRA, this is illegal. Employees have a right to discuss hours, pay and other employment-related issues. And in both of these cases above, employers got in trouble with policies that were too broad and could be construed to restrict such “protected and concerted” discussions.

However, employers can ask that their employees follow appropriate laws when using social media. Posts that clearly constitute harassment and bullying are never okay and should never be condoned. Furthermore, employees must heed industry-specific laws when discussing their work online. This has been tested many times in the medical professions. Nurses and doctors have both been fired for posts that violate the privacy provisions of HIPAA. Financial sector employees can also be fired for violating industry-specific laws — and they may also face massive fines, as the recent case of a Citigroup analyst demonstrates.

Clearly, this is a far more complex issue than most business owners realize. So how do you write an enforceable, reasonable and legal social media policy? Here are five starting points:

  1. Start with your existing employee handbook and laws governing your industry. This will ensure that social media policies are consistent with current workplace culture and regulations.
  2. Engage employees in the process. Recruit employees who are active on social media to be involved in the development process. Provide social media training for everyone, to make sure that less tech-savvy employees understand enough to follow policies competently.
  3. Engage your lawyer in the process. This should go without saying, but not enough small businesses heed this advice.
  4. Keep your policy narrow. If the above examples tell us anything, it is that employers must be very specific about what behaviors are prohibited.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. New social networks emerge and gain significant traction quite frequently. Do not base your entire policy around Facebook and Twitter.

For more information on developing quality social media policies Inc. has a great article, and Socialmedia.biz has an excellent guide. From where I sit, it seems a good place to begin is to encourage your employees to be safe, savvy and engaged participants in the social media sphere. Didactic, restrictive policies won’t necessarily protect your business or foster positive use of social media among your employees.

Photo credit: jimdeane / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Keeping Facebook Posts Short and Sweet

Let’s face it, no one wants to read a novel on Facebook. Who has the time? Shorter is sweeter. People tend to gravitate towards shorter, more simple posts. To honor that shorter is indeed sweeter, I’m keeping this short.

Convincing your Clients Shorter is Sweeter

Some clients tend to post long updates and it can be difficult to sway a client in the “right” direction. Given how quickly people scan their news feeds it’s important to get to the point right away and drive more traffic to your posts.

Here are some tips to help convince your clients:

  • Show clients examples of what other pages are doing. Are shorter posts receiving more feedback? Chances are yes!
  • Give them the facts. (see below)
  • Remind them that posts cut off on Facebook and you must select, “See More” to view the rest of the post. Chances are if someone sees the word, “See More,” they are going to pass and move on to more succinct information.
  • Ask them what posts they tend to view on their news feed. Most likely, they stick to the shorter posts with only occasional exceptions.
  • Remind them only a sentence or two will appear in the Ticker on the right side of the news feed.
  • According to Social Media Today, nearly 70 million people will access Facebook from their phones each month. People don’t want to scroll forever to read lengthy posts. Advise your clients accordingly.

It’s a Fact

It is a fact shorter posts receive more likes, comments and shares. According to Facebook.com, “Posts between 100 and 250 characters get about 60 percent more likes, comments and shares.”

Final Thoughts…

Time is everything. It’s important to realize people often multitask while viewing updates. They don’t have time to read wordy posts that seem to go on forever. If you want to run a successful page and receive more feedback on posts, keep them informative but short! And remember, just because a post is shorter doesn’t mean it doesn’t have substance. You can still provide exceptional content through short posts. Have you had more success with shorter posts?