If you feel like Facebook, Twitter and the other social media platforms are nothing but a collection of lousy news, streaming violence, trolling and misinformation, you are in good company. It turns out that only 8 percent of global internet users believe that the bulk of information shared on social media is real. This is a big problem for Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, most of which are scrambling to address a coming wave of privacy and content moderation regulations. But this could be an even bigger problem for the many organizations, including yours, that rely on these platforms to represent their brands.
Will you love it, leave it or trade?
Now is the best time to ask whether your organization will continue using social media as part of its communication strategy, abandon social media, or swap existing social media platforms for an alternative, home-grown online community. Each option comes with a set of perks and disadvantages. Given what’s at stake, it is prudent for communication specialists everywhere to understand and participate in the decision-making progress.
Sticking it out
From Domino’s Pizza to KLM and Nike, we’ve all heard the benefits of social media for business. And it’s easy to understand why, since by 2021 one third of the world’s population (or 3.02 billion people!) is expected to use one or more social media platforms. If your business can tap into at least a fraction of that user base, it could mean excellent brand awareness, loyal following and positive contributions to the business’s bottom line.
If you choose to stay on any of the massive social media platforms, this is an excellent time to revisit the risks and opportunities that come with their use. You should actively consider what guardrails (or digital policies) your organization will put in place to guide social media use.
If you decide to stick out your social media commitment, here are a handful of questions to get you started thinking through the implications and developing some guardrails for ongoing operation:
- If we use user-generated content (UGC), will we allow all types of content? If not, what standards will we use to publish/omit content? Will we post those standards so that no one can claim censorship?
- How will we handle matters of ownership and privacy when it comes to UGC? Do users have to give consent before submitting content?
- What restrictions (if any) do we want to place on the type of content digital workers are allowed to like, share, etc.?
- What will you do about content that is considered appropriate in some countries, but not in others? How will we identify those cultural norms?
- Will we use our content to participate in political/cultural activism? Do our customers expect us to take a public stand, or do they expect neutrality? Does taking a stand on high-profile topics fit with our organizational values? Are we willing to maintain that position even if it harms our business? How much damage are we willing/able to tolerate?
Giving it up
If your corporate beliefs are more aligned with the general public sentiment these days, you might want to step away from social media. You wouldn’t be the first, as important brand names including Apple and Wetherspoons gave up Twitter recently, and Lush cosmetics silenced its global social media channels. Abandoning social media can bring you lots of customer goodwill, if the public’s perception is that your action is in alignment with a more substantial, ethical and societal commitment to doing the right thing, as was the case with Lush. But it can also just make good business sense.
Marketing costs add up quickly and not every business can afford substantial social media campaigns. What’s more, unless you are an e-commerce business that can directly tie clicks to sales, you may not want to contribute to Google and Facebook’s cornering of the advertising market (by 60 percent or US$76.57B in 2019) by sponsoring social media campaigns that don’t have direct and measurable outcomes. If you head down the path of pausing your social media communication or abandoning the channels altogether, plan your exit carefully.
If you decide to abandon social media, tactically, consider the following questions to get you started in establishing an exit plan:
- Are there dangers in alienating our community and risking client loyalty by leaving social media? What will our departure do for the brand, if anything?
- How will prospects and customers reach us after the social media channels are abandoned? Are we abandoning or deleted our accounts? If leaving social media turns out to be a bad idea, can we quickly reverse ourselves? What does that look like?
- Will our departure leave a void that competitors can quickly fill? How will we address this competitively and differentiate ourselves?
- Are there records that we need to retain for business/liability reasons from our social media accounts? How will “mid-flight campaigns” and communication be transferred to other channels?
Going your way
If you choose to give up the massive social media platforms, you might still decide to go your way and create an online digital community either as part of your own hosted solution or by leveraging one of the many independent social media networks that are popping up. It is a bit like heading back to the early 2000s era, but one thing is for sure: You will have full control over the platform direction and can moderate its content in support of your brand. Of course, this approach is time- and resource-intensive. And you will still need to carefully consider rules around the platform, including user-generated content policies.
If you decide to set up your own online community, define a set of policies starting with the following questions:
- How and to what extent will we moderate the content users post in our community? How often will we check? What criteria will we use to determine whether to remove a post and how quickly will that be done?
- If users hijack our community, will they be harming the brand’s image rather than enhancing it?
- Should we require explicit consent before sharing a piece of content, or can consent be assumed?
- Where is the line between playing an active role vs. a passive role, and do our employees understand it?
- Who and how will we staff to ensure the online community remains a safe and productive place on an ongoing basis?
The choice is yours
Regulators around the world are grappling with how to rein in social media, playing catch-up with the tech giants like Facebook on privacy, security, user-generated content, moderation and copyright enforcement. How consequential the regulations will be is still unknown, but from posturing of various governments, we know it will land between a warning letter and a business breakup. In light of these shifts, the tainted nature of Facebook and the other social media channels, it’s time to decide whether to abandon social media as a communication vehicle. And that choice is yours.