“Social media is not going away. It is a business tool, it can be an incredible place to find strength but it can be dark. I am organizing a conference on how to handle social media as a positive platform. I can’t wait to share it with you soon.”
That quickly deleted Instagram post by stylist Jessica Mulroney drummed up a flurry of intrigue with online royal watchers in January, theorizing that the note’s removal indicates a surprise appearance by Duchess Meghan Markle. Whether or not the Suits actress signs on to the event as a speaker doesn’t much matter for our purposes, but the overall tale highlights the oftentimes toxic landscape of social media as well as its importance as a business tool.
And now that so many meeting professionals find themselves at home, exercising extreme social distancing, many without active events on which to work, some no longer employed, perhaps obsessively searching for and scanning coronavirus news on Twitter, it’s prime time to focus on your professional education—you can only watch so many hours (or days) of Netflix before that leisure activity becomes a chore.
So here we go again. Decades into social media’s communication takeover, many meeting professionals still need to learn the proper uses of the various social media platforms and hone skills in what author, futurist and artist Howard Rheingold terms “crap detection.”
Even though social media is fluid with new rules, mores, opportunities and threats swirling around seemingly every day, one trend I’ve seen over the past decade is that the best published guidance for effective social media use has remained evergreen. More specifically, the most basic social media communications concepts are just as valid and important to learn now as they were 10 years ago. Sadly, many users continue to dive into social media—and claim fluency in that domain—while ignorant to these essential lessons.
Here are four important elements of social media in which all professionals should be fluent—with links for those seeking a refresher.
Get your facts straight
Fake news—both well-meaning yet erroneous and propagandic in nature—is enjoying a golden age thanks to the easy-to-share nature of social media. Sadly, the art of fact-checking is not receiving the same love. Not only must event professionals be able to communicate with stakeholders clearly and correctly via social media, they must also know how to deal with disinformation online. In Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Rheingold shares sage wisdom to help readers develop authentic digital literacy and critical thinking skills (“crap detection”), with the hopeful goal/promise similar to that of any good meeting or event: to produce a more thoughtful society. (Those really wanting to get into the weeds of digital communication theory should explore the materials for Rheingold’s past courses at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.)
Some of the disinformation encountered online comes from these jerks of chaos. In short, the goal of a troll is to disrupt, distract and cause grief. How you respond/react to trolls can affect the tone and quality of your event. Consider this hypothetical: Your keynote speaker engaged your community via Twitter in advance of your event, seeking to identify their most under-served pain points. A couple of valid responses are posted, then a random user chimes in to denigrate the physical appearance of the speaker…then moves on to abuse the other respondents. The valuable pre-event back-and-forth has been hijacked. Suddenly, there’s a negative taste tied to your event and the quality of community feedback disintegrates, all thanks to an anonymous digital heckler. In general, the best approach to a troll is to block/report the account and do not engage—ignore the petulant child. Hootsuite offers some excellent additional insight on how to deal with trolls.
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Where’s the strategy?
You develop strategies for every aspect of your meeting/event, so why don’t you have a social media strategy? This begins with deciding upon a social media policy—guidance (sometimes simple recommendations, sometimes enforceable with penalties) for staff, partners and/or attendees to ensure communication is respectful and on-brand. In “Open Door Policy,” I explored the reasons for and against having a robust social media policy. Although published 10 years ago, the lessons shared in that article are just as important and overlooked by meeting professionals today. (Go here to read an updated version that also provides 0.25 hours of continuing education credits.) Once you’re past the policy question, move on to the nitty gritty of your social media strategy—Hootsuite has a PowerPoint template for that.
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Is this what ROI looks like?
Early discussions about the ROI of social media were a bit ephemeral in nature. How can you quantify the value of your activities on the various platforms? The ah-ha moment for me came with the understanding that you define how to gauge the success of your own social media actions—there’s no singular metric that applies to every organization or event. A valid entry point to this topic is “Untangling the Value of Social Media,” my own initial foray into the social media ROI discussion.