What next for social media?

by / Tuesday, 31 January 2017 / Published in Digital, Government, Latest posts

It’s odd writing a history for something still less than ten years old, but there’s a common theme emerging in discussions with our clients in 2017. For many, we were there at the beginning of their social media adventure, helping design social media policies and supporting them in discussions with risk averse senior managers, still getting their heads around the world of smart phones and text messaging.

As enthusiasm for social media grew and those same senior managers, while still struggling with Facebook, began to understand the potential of LinkedIn and to a lesser extent Twitter, we saw a flurry of fevered activity across Government, with colleagues and clients wanting urgent help with social media policies (most of which broadly boiled down to “try not to do anything stupid online”) and then with everything from content creation to moderation and sourcing.

It was a bit of a rush. In truth, we were all learning as we went.

The feverish second wave of social media that followed brought a host of technology solutions, or “shiny new objects”, especially in social media monitoring, positioned by digital gurus as “must have” packages, irrespective of alignment to any identified strategic goals. It was chaotic and if you worked in software sales, the best of times.

Across our Government clients, once those risk management policies were in place, we quickly saw an explosion of different sites, pages, feeds and accounts, each adding their voices to an already crowded media marketplace. In the same way that departments had each built their own websites some five or six years earlier, it seemed that everyone now wanted to have a social media presence. Because they could.

Some did it spectacularly well. We’ve mentioned before the excellent social media activity of the various Police and Emergency Services in using the most immediate mediums we’ve ever had for distributing really urgent information. Having been behind the move to take recruitment advertising online, we’re now seeing social media deployed as a powerful recruitment tool and elsewhere as a perfect modern day replacement for the tired old press release. Brilliant.

But as we enter what might be the third age of social media, the key issue for our clients is no longer software choice or social media guidelines. There’s far less concern about risk and better governance. And far less shiny new objects.

But many are now asking the question “what’s next”.

For some, the social media experience hasn’t gone exactly as hoped. We see regular evidence of community engagement programmes reaching only small audiences and Facebook pages with nothing to share or You Tube videos with less than 30 views.

We’re also seeing that having started with nothing less than five years ago, many departments now have too many channels to manage, with audiences often diluted between channels from the same organisations. And what was once seen as simple, low maintenance and low cost work is quickly becoming an expensive drain on resources. And many of those departments are starting to ask “what’s next”?

To help solve things, we’ve helped a few to run independent audit of all channels. One of the beauties of the digital age is that most things are pretty measurable and our process can quickly review all media activity, social and otherwise, map stakeholder needs and then align it all back to their corporate objectives. Our work has found opportunities to streamline and amalgamate channels, to increase cross promotion and to share wisdom about what works best. Most of all, we’ve found ways of really focusing effort towards the areas of greatest return.

While it’s the kind of task best suited to independent outsiders, you can of course do a basic audit of your own social media by asking three simple questions:

·        What (social media) channels do we have?

·        What specific business problem does each one solve?

·        Is it working?

This kind of assessment is no different in essence to the days of SWOT analyses in annual strategy meetings in country house hotels. Except in our experience, nowadays answering question one can be a week’s work on it’s own. For whatever reasons, but probably because most social media channels are pretty much free to launch, most organizations will discover old organizations they didn’t remember they had or even worse, social media accounts that no one remembers the password to.

If you take time to stand still, it’s pretty easy to fix. And there’s no better way to start finding the answer to “where next for social media”.

If you want to get us involved of course we’ll also run some deeper performance metrics and benchmark the costs of the various tools and software packages that your teams are using. We’re yet to do a job that didn’t find opportunities for immediate cash savings that paid back our very reasonable fees 5 and 10 times over. We’ll also review your workflows and governance systems to ensure that rogue content can’t be uploaded by accident and that systems are in place to manage issues that arise. That’s what we do.

But if that all sounds too much and you’re one of those people that’s wondering what the next step is for social media in your organization, set time aside to do an audit of everything you’ve got already before taking another step. Sounds boring, but trust me, you’ll be glad you did.