Mitigating the risks of social media

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The introduction of social media and smartphones have significantly changed the way we communicate, in a relatively short time. Between 2003 and 2010 we were introduced to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, iPhones, and Androids — just to name a few.

This new digital landscape has opened doors for communicating with customers and clients  in ways that were unheard of before, and at a speed unmatched by any other form of communication. According to an October 2015 report from comScore (an international cross-platform measurement company that measures audiences, brands and consumer behaviour), Canadians are some of the most digitally connected people in the world and spend the most time online — almost 37 hours per month.

While there are particular risks that come with participating in social media, they do not outweigh the significant benefits of having a social media presence. Especially when you know the risks, protect yourself, and get set up for success.

THE RISKS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Mistakes (Human Error)

They are bound to happen from time to time. For example, perhaps you post a photo of someone who didn’t give you their permission or you post information before it is released to the public.

Unclear (or Non-Existent) Process

What is the content creation and approval process for your municipality? What happens with negative feedback or in a crisis?

Reputation

An inappropriate response, not responding to comments or concerns made publicly on social media, or posting things that are inappropriate can have a negative effect on your reputation or that of your municipality.

Costs

Social media platforms are generally free to use and come with a pre-built infrastructure; the cost to use them is the time it takes to maintain a consistent and responsive presence. Other costs may include social media management software, and other apps, such as those used to create images.

Legal

What type of information can be shared and when? What type of information is off limits for sharing? What if sensitive information gets leaked?

PROTECT YOURSELF

A social media policy is a must. This policy details the rules by which you or your municipality participates in social media.

Be sure to answer these questions as you draft your social media policy:

  • What social media channels are we using?
  • What are the login details for each channel?
  • Who is responsible for developing content and posting on social media?
  • Who is responsible for approving content and what is the approval process?
  • What are the rules of engagement for your municipality?
  • What type of information can and cannot be shared?
  • Who is responsible for monitoring your social media channels?
  • What is the process to follow when you receive negative comments?
  • What do you do when a mistake is made?
  • What happens in a crisis? When does a situation get escalated to management and to whom should it be reported?

Once you’ve developed the policy, share it with everyone in your business or organization.

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

Monitoring

Daily monitoring is an integral part of a social media presence. If you don’t monitor, how will you know what people are saying about you or your municipality, or — just as important — asking of you? Just as you wouldn’t ignore a phone or email message, you can’t ignore social media posts about you or for you.

Daily monitoring doesn’t mean you need someone sitting online all day waiting for something to happen. It does mean checking in two or three times a day to see if anyone has left a comment, sent a message or asked a question.

There are several other ways you can monitor your online reputation.

  • Setting up free Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) for your municipality, council members, and/or prominent staff. Putting them in quotation marks will deliver better results.
  • Setting up free searches for particular terms and/or profiles in any social media management program that you may use (HootSuite, TweetDeck, etc.). You can set up searches for “Company/Organization Name” and “CEO Name” as you do for Google. You can also create columns in these programs dedicated to specific feeds or hashtags.
  • Make sure notifications are turned on so you receive them. This will save you from having to check in too often.
  • Hire a media monitoring service (Newswatch Saskatchewan, Meltwater, etc.) to conduct more in-depth searches on your behalf.

Content

You can also set yourself up for success by planning your content ahead of time. It’s a good idea to create a social media content calendar laying out the schedule for posts in the week or month ahead. It can be a simple spreadsheet, or Word document.

Finally, there are plenty of social media management tools available (HootSuite, Buffer, etc.) that allow you to schedule your content ahead of time. However, daily monitoring is still important with scheduled content. There may be something in the news or happening in your community that would make the scheduled post inappropriate or in bad taste.

A FEW BASIC RULES

No matter what social media platform you are engaged on, keep the following basic rules in mind to ensure an engaging and responsive presence, and a positive social media experience.

  • Be responsive, helpful, and transparent.
  • Acknowledge mistakes.
  • Respond in a timely manner.
  • Provide updates through all channels in a timely fashion. (For example, post news releases on social media as they are sent out through more traditional channels).
  • Think before you post.
  • Remember, you don’t need to be everywhere to be effective. Be on the channels that make the most sense (i.e., where your audience is) and ensure they are well executed.
  • In over your head? Ask for help or seek out training.

 

Being prepared is the best thing you can do to mitigate the risks of participating in social media. Creating a social media policy, planning your content and monitoring often will go a long way in minimizing risk and setting up social media success for all involved.

A version of this article also appears in the Fall 2017 edition of URBAN VOICE, the quarterly publication of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.