Six Steps to Better Social Media Community Management

Spoiler alert: Step 1 is to redefine social media community management. And community. And management.

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Just a few short years ago, social media best practices (fuck ’em) dictated that social media community management (customer service and word-of-mouth crisis management, one post at a time) consisted largely of having some poor soul that your brand hired — your community manager — live in the comment trenches on your owned social channels, responding to the gripes of this fine nation’s Carols, and to the dull inquiries of the Google-inept. Meanwhile, the rest of your social media team was probably meticulously plotting their social content and posting schedule to get involved in the #socialmedia #conversation. For many brands, this is still the norm.

What I’m trying to say is that most brands aren’t very good at social media.

But there’s hope yet! Today I’d like to talk about revamping your brand’s approach to social media and community management. Take what you know, and be prepared to throw most of it out.

If you’re at all involved in the branded social media game, there’s a good chance that you’re aware of some of the more famous social accounts: Arby’s, Wendy’s and Moon Pie on Twitter, NatGeo and Tesla on Instagram, and…I don’t know, Starbucks? maybe? on Facebook. Whatever, Facebook sucks so let’s not talk about it. Let’s dig a bit more into what these brands have done to create successful accounts contrary to the social media norm, all organized into six steps for easy application.

Step 1: Redefine social media community management. And community. And management. So let’s establish from the outset that ‘community management’ as we typically know it is neither community nor management. In practice, it’s conditioning consumers to turn your own social accounts into a scorched earth wasteland of angry and needy comments, accompanied by your brand’s feeble attempts to deescalate each situation and direct them to a DM/service number/email account. Pitchfork-wielding, expired-coupon-redeeming, broken-product-having social media users do not a community make.

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I can understand why someone thought that customer service was a good use of social media at one point in time. But it isn’t. And I don’t understand how anyone thinks it has anything to do with ‘community.’ Throw ‘community’ out of the window. Toss out ‘management,’ too, because the whole thing implies that you’re herding perturbed consumers. It’s counterproductive; it assumes reaction and pandering, and that is a HUGE missed opportunity in social media usage.

Rather than community management, think fanbase building. No, really. I’m not pretending like people give a shit about brands and run around being fans of brands per se. They can, but that’s not exactly what we’re here for today.

Social media has enormous untapped potential for brands in that it gives consumers the rare chance to interact with your brand on a nearly human level. And because most other brands suck at social media. Your social channels can be the closest people get to engaging your monolithic corporation as a living, breathing entity, so why waste that opportunity fielding annoyed (and annoying) comments from the masses? If done right, social media can offer the unparalleled ability to get people thinking about your brand outside of the times they might be purchasing or using whatever you happen to offer (with far, far lower costs than a TV campaign).

Step 2: Build your (human) social media brand character. This is my free secret for you. For most people, social media is a form of entertainment or distraction from their dull lives. Yes, of course. What if I told you….that your brand’s trivial content and #memeoftheday posts don’t really bring that much to the table? If advertising is #storytelling (it can be, but it isn’t), then your social media accounts are your best outlets to build ongoing, meaningful characters that people will find entertaining and worthwhile. And there’s your golden ticket! Entertain! Be useful. Be human.

Build a character and use THAT personality to interact with your public. “Adding value,” a term so frequently overused, typically isn’t about rational value (time, information, money, resources) to people. *SHOCK*. Value added, in this case, is filling a small gap in people’s everyday lives. Make them laugh, think, react, be less bored, forget that they’re crushed by the stress of unmanageable debt. Be interesting and entertaining, and you’ve got the basis of an audience. #storytelling is still a buzzword we’re using, and you can’t tell a story without characters. Create your protagonist.

But that’s off brand! Insight: most people don’t give a shit about most brands. Your brand is probably bland and lifeless on social media. Take a good, hard look in the mirror. Do people give a shit about your brand? Do you want your brand to come off as bland and lifeless? What if I told you that your brand is a living, breathing organism that can exist outside of a rigid definition, and it can be brought to life in dynamic ways that your audience can care about? Work with me here.

Anyways, an audience isn’t a fanbase. Let’s move on.

Step 3: Build your character’s world. If you want to build a fanbase, you have to establish its basis. In other words, build your character, and build your cult of personality around that character. If you’ve got a shtick, your fanbase is the one that’s in on the joke.

You’re operating on social media platforms whose specific purpose is to foment interactions between people (and to generate ad revenue, but I digress). What are your rules of engagement? How will your brand post? What does it post about? When? How will it react to trolls? Does it? What kinds of posts from the public will rouse a response from your account? Does it react to news events or cultural events? How so? Why? With what perspective? Who is this character, and what world do they live in?

That might sound daunting and in need of massive planning, but it really isn’t. Just…start doing it, and figure it out as you go. That’s a scary proposition for most brands, but that’s also why this is such an effective form of branded social media communication: so few brands do it. Moving forward, though, I think you’ll find a more receptive client audience to this type of thing all of a sudden (see my note at the end of this post).

Do it right, and your engagement KPIs will inherently reflect the quality of your posting with regard to your own developed standards. We know that fans develop keen aesthetic sense in relation to their fan objects, i.e. what counts as “good” and “bad” episodes of Seinfeld or Star Wars movies (shout out sociology of culture). When NatGeo posts something that’s particularly good on Instagram, yes, it was probably aesthetically pleasing in its own right, but it was also a good NatGeo post. That’s what we’re here for, folks. The good shit.

Build an interesting character and build the rules of their world (and how the public will engage with that character), and you’re on your way to a captive audience. Which leads me to my next step…

Step 4: Mix it up with the peasantry. Insight: People want to be noticed. Related insight: People want to matter. If you’re in the muck of Twitter or Instagram playing your part to build your brand’s character, mingle with the masses!

Let’s look at Moon Pie again.

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Part of what makes Moon Pie work is that 1. the brand’s personality is that it just doesn’t really care; it’s like an aspiring comedian on the verge of making it and quitting her social media job, and 2. getting joked on by a celebrity (we’ll come back to ‘celebrity’ in a paragraph) Twitter account isn’t so bad when you’re in the spotlight with little in the way of actual reputation damage. You got called out of the crowd, and it’s not hard to save face when it’s a snack cake that blows up your spot. When it happens, you’ve more or less been rewarded by a brand for being noticeable. This kind of thing is valuable to a lot of people.

Ultimately, your social accounts can be your brand personified, nearly a celebrity endorser but not quite — and people like to interact with celebrities. Be your own celebrity: bring your brand to life, and write your own rules on how you’re going to interact with the public. Build your brand character and mold it into a social media star by being memorable and entertaining. Maybe be witty and aloof, jumping into the fray when a commoner is clever or mistaken enough to rouse you. If you’re a bank, maybe you’re the irreverent #dadbank for Millennials on Twitter or Facebook, dishing out bad puns and financial advice.

Step 5: Stop being so uptight. Don’t act like you care so much. Insight, redux: your brand doesn’t matter that much to most people. It doesn’t. That’s the elephant in the room in marketing. People don’t really care about your brand most of the time, and they almost certainly don’t give a shit about your brand on social media. What if you actually gave people something to give a shit about? Jump in with two feet. For this character building thing to work, you have to commit, to send it.

Step 6: Have the right people in place. This really comes down to the talent you have behind the keyboard. If you decide that Quaker Oatmeal needs an acerbic, biting wit, you better have an aspiring Larry David 2.0 at the Twitter hottakes helm.

Is your brand a good fit for this approach? I dunno. Why the hell not? People probably don’t care about what you’re doing on social media as it is.

Note: As I wrote this, Moon Pie hit the meme mainstream with a repost by @fuckjerry on Instagram.

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Now this gets interesting — it could signal jump-the-shark territory if other brands take the wrong lesson away. It’s not that your brand should copy this brand personality and become a snarky smartass on social media. I think the more important takeaway is that your brand should become something on social media. Be interesting.

If Baby Gap starts talking shit to people in its Twitter replies in the next twelve months, we’ll probably know that it’s time to pivot. But hear me loud and clear: If @usinterior starts roving the Instagram comment wasteland and ROASTING fools, you better know that I’ll be smashing that like button so hard and fast it cracks my phone’s screen.

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