Full Court Press sought out the perspectives of some social media experts on how they would answer some of the challenges faced by social enterprises looking to build up a social media presence. We discovered diverse and varied ways to navigate some of the trickiest social media challenges— from building a presence, to facing the trolls, to finding success.
First, What Advice do you have for a social enterprise or business that is starting toes into advocacy on social media?
Ginna Green, ReThink Media, Managing Director, Money in Politics and Fair Courts: Be authentic. Be strategic. Be patient. And understand the explicit reason you are engaging in social media beyond the fact that everyone is doing it. Social media can feel like it is its own world, and that is true to an extent. But it is the world that we make it, an extension of ourselves, our brands, our personalities, distilled, but also expanded. To me this means a requirement that we are always our most true selves, as individuals and organizations, and is probably even more true for brands and firms than for just folks.
Alicia Trost, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Communications Manager: Hone your message and workshop it to death until it is where you want it. Don’t just jump in and start tweeting what you think. Everything should come from your strategy message. Have facts, data, and examples at the ready to use at any given moment. Make sure you know where you can quickly point folks to more information. Anything you would say to the media on the record can be said on social. Humanize or at least visualize your advocacy using videos, pictures and graphics.
Don’t just send out canned messages and retweet, you HAVE TO engage and have a conversation with people. If you do it correctly and at the right time, people will look at your timeline and see how you responded. BART has received earned media about the conversations we have had on Twitter and how they incorporated our strategic messaging.
Dan Cohen, Full Court Press Communications, Founder: Leave nothing to chance. Start slowly. Be humble. Ask your customers or audience where they are, what tools they use, and how they want to engage with you. Some social media tools prioritize one-way communications while others are meant for back and forth. Choose wisely. And if there is one thing we’ve learned, its that you should seek to perfect your approach by trial and error and measurement on one channel before starting another.
What is your policy for dealing with antagonists (and even trolls)? Does it change if it is just someone who is unhappy?
Ginna: In the words of John Lennon, “let it be.” And, in the words of someone else, “Don’t feed the trolls.” (By my definition, a troll is someone without a legitimate beef.) If someone has a legitimate beef, you must address, and my recommendation is to acknowledge publicly and redirect privately.
Alicia: Five years ago our social media guidelines specifically stated “don’t feed the trolls,” but this is no longer the case. We now advise: “Feel free to join in a conversation where the person disagrees with you or is being combative – but try and defuse the situation rather than escalate…. and be sure you’ve got the knowledge base to answer questions and respond before diving in”.
We’ve even had successes engaging trolls or very combative users mainly because others saw the conversation going on and jumped in to defend us or push back on their premise.
For the most part, people really appreciate a meaningful response back even if they disagree with you. They seemed shocked you are even willing to engage and then their tone changes.
Dan: The counsel provided by Ginna and Alicia is terrific. We encourage clients to do what you can to move the conversation off-line. If it is a customer or resident with a legitimate complaint, do what you can to move that person to engage with a representative from your organization off-line.
For the longer term, our advice would be to build a resilient and dynamic following of advocates for your issue or cause online. Feed those positive non-trolls and empower them to share powerful stories. A few years ago, NASA invited some of its most ardent Twitter followers to attend a launch in Florida. Participants gained insights that they could share for years to come. Often, by showcasing the parties who support you, the trolls can be drowned out or overwhelmed.
What is your biggest success story (so far) on social media – in any way you define success – that could inform the efforts of a social enterprise?
Ginna: My team at ReThink Media worked closely with the coalition behind Accountable Miami-Dade, a proposed ballot measure that would have bolstered local democracy by strengthening and enforcing campaign finance laws such as banning county contractors from making big-money donations to local officials and building a small-donor funded system. After we had submitted the petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot (more than twice what was required), it became clear that we were going from standard campaign mode to crisis mode when the Board of County Commissioners failed to authorize the canvassing of the petitions. We quickly launched a #StartCounting campaign, its hallmark being a Twitter town hall moderated by local outlet The New Tropic that featured local celebrities, elected officials, and advocates. The short-term campaign earned 19+ million impressions, 5.6 million from the town hall alone, and #StartCounting was the top 3 trend in Miami during and after the conversation. Most importantly, however, the commissioners heard the people, and they started the count.
Know your goal.
Know your targets.
Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
Alicia: We used social media to educate the public about our infrastructure needs leading up to our bond measure on the ballot. We had a series of success stories where we were able to engage with the public about our need to rebuild and get people to look at our educational brochures on our website. It resulted in 1,000 downloads in one night alone following a creative series of planned tweets the night of a presidential debate when we knew everyone would be on Twitter.
On another day, we had a major service problem and people were tweeting about how awful BART was. We started responding to each tweet and tweeting out messages about why our service had deteriorated in the last few years and our plans to rebuild. The messages we used that night were ones we had been crafting for over a year as we prepared to go to the ballot for Measure RR. The following days we had headlines in the NY Times, LA Times, Gawker, CNN and more such as:
- San Francisco’s transit system stopped being polite and got real about complaints on Twitter
- Wow—Finally Some Honesty From the Government
- With its back against the wall, BART tweets like a boss
- BART Talks Back: Agency’s Twitter Account Responds to User Complaints
- BART’s twitter manager drops truth-bombs, world cheers
Some of the tweets got over a thousand retweets and now that we have the following we’ve seen other tweets get as many as 3,300 retweets and over 9,000 likes, and that was all organic without any paid promotion of posts.
Dan: While we’ve had powerful campaigns that have delivered quantitative leaps for clients. I’m proudest of our efforts to take client’s through Beth Kanter’s path of social media adoption – Crawl, Walk, Run, then Fly. In so many ways, FCP’s lasting impact is to leave behind powerful communicators at our client’s HQ who can think and act strategically using social media tools. We provide trainings, one-on-one counseling, social media calendaring, and even strategic planning. But at the end of the day, when we see our clients soaring with success, managing multiple channels, engaging their audiences, and winning with these tools…that is its own reward.
Thanks to our experts:
Ginna Green: https://twitter.com/ginnagreen
Alicia Trost: https://twitter.com/AliciaTrost
Dan Cohen: https://twitter.com/dcstpaul