5 Things to Consider before Handing Over the Keys to Your Social Media Accounts

Keys photo by Vickie BatesIn the few short years since brands took up social media, I’ve been handed the keys to any number of social accounts, and though the organizations were very different, the thing they had in common was that there was absolutely no introduction to the goals driving engagement in these channels.

Never mind that turning over accounts to people without a discussion of goals, audiences, strategy, tactics, voice and metrics (at the very least) is like handing your car keys to a teenager without asking whether they have a driver’s license.

As Michael Brito noted in the Mashable post “10 Twitter Best Practices for Brands,” it’s important to be flexible without being too restrictive when turning over keys to anyone – employees, contractors, interns. “Planning, training, coordination and integration with social tools is imperative,” Brito emphasizes.

One of the hallmarks of social media is its speed of delivery, but that should never be confused with a speedy hand-over of your accounts.

Here are 5 tips to consider when asking someone to manage your social media accounts:

1) Why are you doing social in the first place? Do you have time? If not, is that why you’re handing over the keys? Maybe what’s needed is an examination of your channels, timing and audiences. Which are you having the most success with? Where are the crickets chirping? Perhaps you need to narrow or refocus your social media presence more than you need someone new in the driver’s seat.

2) What experience does the person have and what do their social accounts look like? Are you bringing them on board for their voice and their followers? Or do you have a strategy in mind for how they will engage with your followers?

3) Discuss the following and ask for a mini-comms plan that includes:

  • goals and how they’ll be measured
  • strategy and tactics and a timetable for implementing
  • tone of voice
  • what’s worked and what hasn’t
  • expectations around engagement
  • how you want to grow followers
  • how to manage difficult situations and crises
  • back-up, off-hours support, vacation coverage
  • anything that’s unique to your accounts and audiences

4) Cover the tools you’re using – such as Hootsuite or Buffer – and don’t assume that using one makes someone an expert on another.

5) Finally, listen to what they have to say about their own social media practices and see if adding some of these new ideas to your own accounts results in positive engagement with your audiences.

The War Over Your Child’s Social Profile

There’s been a lot of talk about revamping the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, originally passed in 1998, to reflect the realities of our social media age.

Many legislators, who voted for the law back when websites were a new thing, want to give COPPA more teeth. This includes updates to ensure social, apps, mobile and gaming platforms – and anything else developers might launch in the future – are clearly specified under its rubric. And they want to incorporate a no-tracking rule to tighten regulations around the collection of personal information from children.

On the other side of No Man’s Land are the companies that seem to define social networking. You’ll hear their concerns couched in terms like “education,” “more targeted services,” even “First Amendment rights,” but underlying the lobbying efforts to defang COPPA is one thing: Money.

Signing Up the iGeneration

With 20 million tweens in the United States wielding $40 billion in spending power, plus the ability to influence the purchases of their parents, businesses – from movie studios to record labels to clothing and toy manufacturers – want to target this demographic.

Tweens are generally pegged between 7 or 8 years old and 12 or 13. (I’m using “tweens” somewhat generally, however the social networks lobbying against COPPA have yet to define, at least publicly, an age group or limit for the under-13s they want to target.)

The tween demographic is “hyper trend-aware,” according to Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for The Center for Generational Kinetics, a marketing firm. And social networks, which make their money from aggregating information in social profiles and selling it to marketers, advertisers and app developers, are hyper-aware of the profits to be made from tapping into the demographic data of the iGeneration. They’re willing to spend money to make even more down the line.

Facebook has doubled its investment in lobbying this year ($650,000 in Q1 alone) and, in 2011, started a political action committee that donates to representatives on committees that oversee technology issues.

Google, the search giant and developer of Facebook competitor Google+, is also active in the halls of the House and Senate, while Microsoft, founder of Bing, has been lobbying in D.C. for years. Similar efforts are under way in state legislatures.

COPPA and the Cyberbullies

One goal of social network lobbying is to relax requirements set out in COPPA that deal with advertising and other business practices aimed at children, including the collection of information. COPPA defines a child as “an individual under the age of 13.”

The law places the burden on online services – whether they’re websites, social or gaming networks, or mobile platforms – to ensure certain safeguards are in place, including:

  • posting policies regarding the confidentiality of information collected on the site;
  • securing parental permission before gathering data from children;
  • ensuring parents have reasonable access to children’s data;
  • allowing parents to delete data; and
  • restricting the sale of data collected from children without parental consent.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signaled his intent to take on COPPA “at some point” in a keynote at the 2011 NewSchools Summit.

“My philosophy is that for education, you need to start at a really, really young age,” Zuckerberg added.

In response to these comments, technology journalist Audrey Watters, on the Edutopia website, posed several interesting questions: “Do we need better legislation about online privacy or do we need better education (or both)? After all, it’s pretty clear that children under 13 want to be – and already are – on sites like Facebook.”

Are the Kids Alright?

Facebook and other social networks do have established processes for removing unauthorized and underage users (some 20,000 a day, according to Facebook). They guard against and quickly delete offensive content and images. And, as PC World notes, Facebook has tighter privacy controls for its teenage members:

“Users between the ages of 13 and 17 get what Facebook’s privacy policy calls a ‘slightly different experience.’ Minors do not have public search listings created for them when they sign up for Facebook, meaning their accounts cannot be found on general search engines outside of Facebook.”

But, children have a way of circumventing such controls – much like kids 40 years ago snuck in to theaters to see films they were considered too young for.

Recent research, by Consumer Reports, finds that 7.5 million children under 13 use Facebook despite being below the official age limit for creating a profile (5 million of those kids are 10 or younger).

“Kids are already doing it” isn’t a particularly strong justification for deflating COPPA. Educating children on the use of social platforms, how to protect their privacy, safeguard themselves from online predators, and ignore the constant bombardment of advertising – certainly, it’s a module that could be added to the packed curricula at grade schools and middle schools. But, we know already that the majority of time kids spend online and on Facebook doesn’t happen during school hours nor is it supervised by parents or teachers.

Facebook especially has shown time and again that it doesn’t respect the privacy of adult users, fessing up only when caught. For this, the social network is subject to a 20-year order by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “agreeing to regular privacy audits to resolve complaints it misled users by making some data public by default without adequate notice,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

But Facebook isn’t alone. Literally as I was writing this, stories began circulating that Google would agree to a $22.5 million settlement with the FTC – reportedly the largest ever against a single company – in order to “put to rest charges that it violated iOS users’ privacy by intentionally bypassing the built-in privacy controls in Apple’s Safari Web browser so Google could track their browsing habits,” according to Digital Trends.

This is one of the reasons the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011, a proposed amendment to COPPA, attracted strong bipartisan support.

“Facebook and Google have earned the scrutiny they’ve received,” states Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in the May 2012 Wall Street Journal article, “Social Network Pumps Up Lobbying.” “I see privacy as an ongoing question for Facebook that is not going to be solved by lobbyists and PR experts.”

What Are We Fighting For?

Finally, the most cogent argument against efforts to weaken COPPA is that the law doesn’t ban social networks, like Facebook, from having under-13s as members.

So, what’s the deal?

It is, in fact, Facebook’s choice to impose an age limit because more controls equal less data, and the company wants to be free to collect and sell as much data as possible from its approximately 900 million users. This is Facebook’s prerogative; and Facebook members agree to this transaction with their personal data when they sign up for accounts and every time they provide status updates or click “Like.”

Parents, however, may prefer to keep safeguards in place when their children’s personal data is at stake and for sale.

What do you think about the debate over COPPA? Is it a matter of educating children about privacy and the commercial aspects of social networks? Do laws need to change as new media evolves?

Note: Specifics of COPPA in this post are drawn from Robert McHale’s excellent new book, Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Business. McHale offers a more nuanced and detailed discussion of the original law and the 2000 Children’s Online Privacy Rule in his chapter on social advertising.

What Did You Mean by Clicking “Like”? Judge Rules Facebook “Like” Button Isn’t Protected Speech

In the shadow of Facebook’s IPO last month, there was a darker story: A federal judge has determined that clicking Facebook’s Like button does not constitute protected speech.

“It is the Court’s conclusion that merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” writes Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed within the record,” he adds, meaning someone left a message on a Facebook wall.

The case involves six employees of the Hampton, Va., sheriff’s office, who claimed they were fired for endorsing a rival candidate of their boss, Sheriff B.J. Roberts, during his 2009 re-election campaign. A summary judgment for the sheriff was granted in Bland v. Roberts in January 2012; the judge’s rationale was released late last month.

While the plaintiffs contend that Roberts “violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when he fired them,” the judge ruled that simply clicking the Like button on an opposing candidate’s Facebook page is not a “clear” or “meaningful way” of speaking out and doesn’t merit First Amendment protections.

The New York Times notes that Jackson’s ruling wanders into “a murky legal area” – one that pits traditional forms of protected speech against the tools used for expression by social channels, the written word versus symbolic speech.

Yet, as Karen List, director of the Journalism program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, observes “the courts have clearly protected symbolic speech in the past, including flag burning, certain types of cross burning and obscene anti-war statements on jackets. Compared to those types of speech, hitting a Like button is very tame, as are many of the other visual expressions of opinion on social media.”

“I believe they should be protected as such,” says List, who teaches media history, law and ethics. “In addition, many scholars believe the First Amendment privileges political speech – so, symbolic speech that is political in nature, like flag burning or ‘liking’ a political candidate – should most definitely be protected.”

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the ruling for social media users is that Judge Jackson studied relevant legal precedents, but found this particular act lacking. His decision turns on the absence of “substantive” and “meaningful” expression in clicking the Like button.

There are any number of social platforms that replace written interaction with visual or symbolic engagement, such as sharing photos via Instagram or “pinning” on Pinterest. In the rapidly evolving social media universe, it seems technology may have outpaced the judicial system’s ability to understand – or even recognize – how expression happens out there.

List offers this perspective: “Legal analysts at the time television was introduced said that courts wouldn’t know what to do with it because the founding fathers never could have envisioned it. If they thought that was true of television, it’s exponentially more true of the internet and social media.”

“Many judges, including the Supreme Court justices, are not comfortable with cameras in their own courtrooms to this day,” she continues. “And yet now they have to deal with cell phones, laptops and Twitter. They don’t understand these tools of expression in their courtrooms, and they don’t understand how they’re used generally. Judges today are faced with applying current legal precedents to new mediums, and in part because they don’t understand them, I think they often rule more conservatively than they otherwise might.”

“It will take a long time for the law to catch up – if it ever does,” List says.

What are your thoughts about the Bland v. Roberts decision? Do you think it will have implications for Facebook and social media channels? Will it change the way you use the Facebook Like?

Employees on Social Media: Have Fun Storming the Castle

The following is a true story. Could this still happen in the age of social media? If your company wants to remain competitive, let’s hope not.

Once upon a time, a company was struggling to regain market share. After trouncing all comers for a decade, it lost its punch as new competitors and more exciting products entered the ring.

The entire company was reorganized to focus on marketing. Despite decades of award-winning work, the old advertising agency was let go. A hip new one was hired. Product lines were brought somewhat up to date, but they didn’t function as well as the market leaders. Consequently, they received poor reviews from press and consumers alike.

And what of employees inside the hallowed halls of this once-great company?

The daily grind was pretty grim. Employees coped as best they could with successive reorgs, changes in leadership, mission rewrites, OPEX reductions, and the launch of one new initiative after another. It was hard to generate excitement when every move the company made seemed to lead to a new round of layoffs.

But try they did. At employee meetings, they sat politely as marketing unveiled the latest products and plans. When asked for input, they gave it. Intelligently, clearly, poignantly. They wanted this stuff to work its magic and they were fully invested in its success. But, because they were closest to the front lines (manufacturing, quality, sales, customer service), they also knew it wouldn’t and, like the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, they felt obliged to tell the truth before the company threw good money after bad.

What did they get in return?

They were told repeatedly that they didn’t understand all this newfangled marketing because they weren’t the right demographic. They didn’t like the new products because they weren’t the ones who were going to buy and use them.

And the “right demographic”? What did they think of the new products and marketing? They turned away in droves.

Was there a Happily Ever After for this company? Sadly, no. Remember, this is a true story, not a fairy tale.

The only thing that kept this saga from getting any worse was the fact that it took place in the days before social media. Imagine if employees – treated like that – had access to Twitter, Facebook and blogs!

What’s the moral of this story?

Dismissiveness discourages engagement (and encourages mutiny)
What exactly are employees supposed to do with insults, such as, “You don’t understand because you’re not the right demographic?” (A lot of them might think about taking their revenge on Twitter or Facebook or in industry forums.)

Effective marketing is all about relationships. Launching a campaign calls for engaging key stakeholders to help build enthusiasm. It starts inside a company before the very first ad airs on TV or the first tweet goes out. If a company can’t build solid, positive relationships with its own employees – natural allies because they share the same goals – how can it expect to create them in the world, where people are far more suspicious of brand messaging?

And if morale is bad inside a company, it’s only a matter of time before that negativity seeps into the social world where it influences key audiences and customers.

Employees aren’t the “right demographic,” they’re the “first demographic”
Engagement must start inside the gates with internal audiences because they are a company’s ambassadors during good times and bad.

“Your people are your best assets,” notes Christopher Barger in The Social Media Strategist. “In an environment in which trust is a key currency, it is your people and their personalities that will sell an audience on your brand as much as your product.”

In this age of social sharing, even with limited or no budget, a company can still create word of mouth around its products if its social media strategy includes having employees use their expertise and enthusiasm to engage customers.

This is doubly true in a crisis, when employee goodwill is shared in social circles, reinforcing official communications. Effective crisis communication is no longer simply about “putting a coin in the good karma bank in case you need to make a withdrawal,” as crisis experts used to describe it.

Companies that value employees and empower them to engage with audiences in social channels on a regular basis have a host of vocal advocates ready to put their influence to work on behalf of the brand’s reputation when barbarians are at the gate.

It’s important to understand how employees relate (and are related to) your customers
Think about a company that makes toys for toddlers. The employees probably range in age from early-20s to early-70s. Clearly, they are not the target user of the toys they manufacture.

But, do none of these folks have children? Grandchildren? How about parents who buy toys for grandchildren? And cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and professional colleagues they meet at industry conferences, etc., etc., etc.

Of course, employees are customers. And, if they’re not direct consumers, they encounter customers in all walks of life and have the potential to be ambassadors for the brand and influence purchase across networks of family, friends and professional associates.

Companies don’t own their “story” any more
Companies no longer control messaging about their brands, leaders or dirty laundry in social channels. (Just ask Yahoo!)

Sure, companies can restrict access to social platforms on the corporate network and create HR policies that forbid mentioning the company in social channels after work. But brands that want to excel take a different tack.

Christopher Barger recommends “teaching the organization to fish”: “Not every organization or company will empower all of its employees to engage in social networks. All the same, it’s a good idea to build a social media education program for all employees anyway.”

Barger’s approach enables employees to learn everything – from social media platforms to publishing tools and company policy. It also gives employees insight into how the company – both marketing and corporate – shares messages and builds relationships in social circles.

This kind of immersion in social media best practices, based on teaching and trust, goes a long way to building a strong base of employee ambassadors who understand the vision and strategy and are well-versed at engaging with the audiences companies most want to reach.

Companies don’t always know how to build a better mousetrap
“Great leaders…know that if they come up with all the answers, the chances of having anyone else buy into the solution are next to zero,” write Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas in Power Questions. “But if their employees come up with the answer – if they feel ownership of it – there is a good chance it will bear fruit.”

Many social media experts predict that smart companies will create iterative processes that allow feedback from social media fans and followers to inform the design of better and new products. Both consumers and employees are in prime positions to contribute expertise in this scenario.

Some companies are already doing this. So, when an employee figures out a whole new way to use a product, simplify consumers’ lives, solve a problem, streamline a service, or just make customers happier, give that employee a blog. Why restrict access to social media? Heck, let them share their personal story with as many people as possible, and watch how customers get engaged.

Now that gives employees and customers something to tweet about!

Do you have examples of companies that encourage employees to use social media channels? I’d love to hear about them in the Comments.

The Social Full Monty: Are You Being Transparent on Purpose or by Accident?

I’m still shocked at the number of people who share their Twitter feed on LinkedIn. Facebook and Pinterest accounts, too.

It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to do the social equivalent of the Full Monty: after all, your social profile will be vetted thoroughly by most HR departments before you ever sign a contract, so why not make it explicit? Share everything in one spot and make it easy for potential employers to get to know the real you.

But, if you run your full Twitter stream on LinkedIn just because the functionality enables it, then you may want to consider doing some social redressing.

Know Your Channels

Just as television networks target certain demographics – Spike programs for young men; OWN and Lifetime seek female viewers; if ESPN doesn’t offer enough of the sports you like, there’s always the Golf and Tennis channels – social media channels serve different purposes for different audiences. (That’s why there’s so much discussion about the number of women who use Pinterest: it makes the channel a highly targeted way for brands to reach that demographic.)

Check out this interesting view from Brian Solis of the vast spectrum of social media channels and who they’re targeting.

LinkedIn is a bit unusual among the social channels because it focuses exclusively on your professional profile. Sure, you may have created a blog to showcase your professional expertise, but blogs don’t have the same capacity for professional networking and being spotted by headhunters. Likewise if you’ve shared your profile on the website of a professional organization that you’re a member of, you’ll be able to share within the organization, but it’s harder to network these profiles beyond the group’s members.

Channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, MySpace, and Orkut are far more social and casual than professional in nature. You tend to let your hair down in these settings, share opinions (sometimes regrettable ones) and photographs (ditto), swear, diss other people’s favorite bands, and sometimes even log on from places like bars or the Superbowl to write updates that demonstrate, perhaps, a propensity for imbibing intoxicating substances.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Sure, you’ve heard all the warnings about drunk-tweeting or putting Saturday night’s party pictures on Facebook. My point is that different channels require different levels of social behavior. You wear your friend (or sister/
brother/cousin) hat on Facebook; on LinkedIn, you put on your business hat. It’s the digital equivalent of dressing up for an interview.

Unless you’re using the other social channels exclusively for business, and your only social profile is professional, then beware the convenience of linking accounts. You may reveal far more than you intended.

What’s at Stake?

You say something that a potential employer doesn’t like – and you will never know why you didn’t make it to the first, or next, round in the hiring process. You simply won’t get a call back about that dream job you wanted.

You say something negative about your existing company – and find yourself being reprimanded (worse, fired) for violating the company’s social media policy.

Your network tunes you out – and Unconnects you – because your Twitter feed clogs their Updates stream – you become the social version of spam. LinkedIn now allows you to anonymously Unconnect from Connections, which means you may already have reduced your networking options without even realizing it. Keep spamming them and see how your professional network shrinks.

You risk looking like you don’t understand the purpose of LinkedIn – which is unfortunate for anyone in any field, but especially so for communications, PR, marketing, advertising, and social media professionals. The better you understand the purpose of the social channel, the better it will work for you in reaching the people you most want to connect with.

You show the world that you don’t understand how to use LinkedIn – because there is a way to connect Twitter and LinkedIn without going Full Monty. If you decide to add your Twitter account to your LinkedIn profile, make sure that you click the option to “Share only tweets that contain #in.” As The B2B Social Media Book notes, “although it can be easy to forget to add the #in hashtag, it’s better than the alternative of posting too many irrelevant updates to your professional network, which could easily overwhelm your connections.”

You miss real opportunities to share your expertise on LinkedIn and network in a professional realm – using the Share an Update feature or within LinkedIn groups, which offer you options for starting a discussion, asking a question, or creating a poll. Like all the other social media platforms, LinkedIn has its home-grown methods of sharing, and one of them involves answering questions and professional knowledge-sharing within groups. This is where you truly network with people beyond your existing network, show them you care as much about helping them as promoting yourself, present yourself as a seasoned professional with excellent advice, and look like someone that other professionals might want to work with in the future. Don’t forgo the networking opportunities of LinkedIn by relying on a one-way blast of tweets intended for a different audience.

You look like you spend more time on Twitter than you do on your real work – and that’s the most important stake of all. Being on Twitter may be part of your job requirements; you may be a freelancer, using it to promote your work and attract new clients, but if your LinkedIn network – and the headhunters who search that network looking for good job candidates – don’t know that, your constant stream of tweets may look more like play than work.

So be your best professional self in a professional networking channel like LinkedIn and consider, in all those other social arenas, that your social self may need to be somewhat more guarded than your real self. Perhaps treat social channels like a PR or marketing person does the media. To excel in those fields, you’re always “on,” always playing the role of brand or company representative, and you never let anyone sneak a peek behind the curtain.

Be a professional spokesperson for yourself in social channels, and you may find far greater social success the less you reveal.

Check out this related post:

8 Twitter Tips for the Savvy Social Media Practitioner

Does Timing Affect Engagement on Facebook and Twitter?

At a webinar today on “The Science of Social Timing” with Jay Baer and Eric Boggs, the two speakers shared data showing that both B2B and B2C companies are still posting content to social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, when they’re at work, rather than focusing on the customer’s schedule. They also pointed out an important opportunity that most companies are missing.

Baer, social media consultant at Convince and Convert, presented several hypotheses, and Boggs’s Argyle Social crunched the data from 250,000 posts (two-thirds of which were from Twitter, one-third from Facebook), examining the highest engagement times on these social networks.

Often we want research to generate “oh wow!” results, but findings, like Argyle Social’s in this study, which show that engagement levels remain steady Monday through Friday, can be just as valuable to your business. A key discovery, that Baer highlights in a follow-up blog post, is that “there may be a large opportunity for B2C marketers on Facebook on Sundays.”

“We found that few companies publish status updates on Sunday, yet engagement (clicks divided by audience) is 30% higher than Saturday, and even higher than versus weekdays.”

Baer and Boggs believe Sunday posts to Facebook are a big, overlooked opportunity because the audiences for both B2B and B2C companies tend to drop off Twitter as the end of the week approaches and ramp up their use of Facebook to plan weekend activities. Even if you schedule Sunday Facebook posts in advance, Baer believes there is a strong chance for greater engagement.

Note that they are using clicks to determine engagement, not retweets, likes, comments or conversions.

The bottom line? Baer (@jaybaer) and Boggs (@ericboggs) recommended that brands and companies should beware of social media “rules of thumb” because every business is different. They encourage devising your own hypotheses (i.e., what’s meaningful for your business, your customers) and running your own experiment (rather than using historical data to justify a conclusion) to determine the best times for engagement with your audiences.

You’ll find the complete infographic here, which shares the main findings about the effectiveness of social timing, and you can listen to the free, one-hour webinar on the Argyle Social website.