As the old saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility. In an age where we now hold in our hands smart devices with more ‘power’ than the computers that put the Challenger spacecraft on the moon, you would think the use of this power would be respected. However, we humans have an uncanny ability to ignore context in the contest for fame and online validation. The web has matured into a brilliant information highway where new skills can be learned overnight, bridges are built across nations facilitating both professional and personal relationships, and on the flip side of that coin, we have a proverbial cesspool.

The average smartphone is now home to more than a few social media apps which allow seemingly limitless access to a network of connected friends (present and those not yet discovered), in addition to bustling bistros and other commercial interests. They allow us to engage with the world and share our views, some of which aren’t fit for face to face consumption. For most brands, social media is the natural progression of the customer discovery and retention processes that have been part of consumer based economies since their existence. The keyboard crafts the new billboard and these tools facilitate rapid information sharing much to the benefit of some brands and to the plunder of others.

Without a doubt, social media is a powerful, if not the most powerful tool for promoting both professional and personal brands online. However, to hearken to the words which began this piece, power must be respected lest brands lose the very things which they worked dutifully to build, their reputations. Social media offenses and faux pas are nothing new. Examples abound of brand plunders online. Some are racial, some sexist, some are downright rude. The resulting action by most corporates errs on the side of hyper-conservatism. This defeats the whole purpose of social media. I suggest that in the space of fear, we use systems and skill to protect our brands from said plunders. Whip out those notepads.

The Social Media Skill Gap

Not all social media managers are built the same. In the same vein, not every smartphone-wielding millennial or hip baby boomer for that matter innately has the skills and contextual understanding of the social space to execute effectively. As I often explain in workshops and seminars that my company hosts, social media has a philosophy driving its use. The first mistake is hiring persons who don’t understand that these platforms serve as listening platforms whilst simultaneously being the most sophisticated targeting tools ever given to the modern marketer. However, the old rules of marketing apply. Akin to any successful execution, planning and the need for strategy are not optional. Any employee/consultant that just jumps right in is unqualified to manage your brand. Questions should come first. A few should be?

  1. What are your business goals?
  2. What is the time frame you had in mind for these results?
  3. Do you currently have a social media strategy or an overall digital media strategy in place?
  4. Have you considered using advertising? What were the results and what demographics were targeted?
  5. Can I review your branding guidelines?
  6. When is the last time you conducted a digital media audit and sentiment analysis of your brand?
  7. Do you have the necessary resources to execute on all the channels you wish to occupy?

These questions should be followed by recommendations. Most social media blunders can be chocked up to putting the wrong person on the bus (hiring), while others are the result of having the right person in the wrong seat. Employers are also to blame as they too lack an of understanding of the nature of social and as such lack the necessary skills to create accountability systems to mitigate risk online.

We are all content creators, to varying degrees of quality. It takes years of study, reading, absorbing trends and data analysis skills for one to call themselves a digital marketer, any true social media marketer should be able to analyze qualitative and quantitative data to drive results, produce creatively sound, aesthetically pleasing art for your channels, craft a multi-channel strategy for achieving your goals and be a boss when it comes to digital advertising. The choice of a social media manager is not just one of skill because this person is effectively asked to manage a firm’s public relations. It is a firm’s responsibility to audit the personal social media account of their employees, to see the narratives they weave, the words they use, the topics they decide to comment on, even before employing them. This insight becomes useful in accidental cases of blurred lines between employee accounts and corporate accounts (see Lasco). At the very least through ardent vetting, you can be sure that you don’t have a raving racist on your team. In a previous piece I wrote that, “in the social world we bare the contents of our minds in our tweets, status updates, and images we share”,  we invariably share who we are with the world. Like wealth, social media allows one to amplify their innermost selves. When choosing a manager, ensure that you employ a professional, not a meme yielding maniac who will do anything, including compromise the values and overall goals of your brand for a few like and shares, which can be purchased; Sentiment, however, takes some time to build and reveals your true brand standing online.

Building A Firewall

Any skilled social media manager will build layers of accountability and a content approval infrastructure to ensure things such as grammatical errors, if posted, are caught swiftly. Tools such as HootSuite allow for an approval system limiting the direct access unskilled or employees currently being trained have to your channels. A content calendar is a requirement as it details the content word for word for approval by legal or the communications manager. For covering live events a social response team should be assembled using tools such as slack or even a Whatsapp group if they cannot meet physically to limit wanton personalized posts. Further, as a rule of thumb, no social media coordinator or manager should be using the same device for handling clients and their personal social media accounts.

So much thinking and contextualization that should take place behind each piece of content. Context is king, and the individual must be aware enough to know that posting a promo code when a national icon has just passed away is ‘bad business’. There is a wide skill gap, and an assessment my company recently delivered to a large media client of mine proves the same. Individuals may interview well, sounding like they have all the right answers, but the capacity to execute to think critically about the emotive and cognitive response they want to evoke, and more importantly the ones they want to avoid is often lacking. As with anything new, there are prone to be significant blunders but if there is one thing those tasked with representing brands on social media ought to consider, This content lives forever. Ensure that your brand is leaving a legacy and not a stain.