For all the wisdom of how to do ‘social media’, surely only 4 rules are needed to keep out of trouble

This post popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, shared by a friend:

GMP Salford

As social media posts go on behalf of an organisation, it probably deserves a place in presentations about how to get it right.

It makes a serious point, is written in a friendly, engaging manner and achieves the right balance of humour with an underlying message: Fly tipping isn’t on.

In theory, such posts should be easy for anyone to do, regardless of their role in the organisation: Think like a human, talk like a human.

If only it were that easy. Take this Tweet from West Yorkshire Police’s Road Policing Unit, as reported by the Huddersfield Examiner: 

Followed by another one:

The response on Twitter to the post came quickly, and it was very negative. West Yorkshire Police responded by deleting the Tweets and issuing an apology – after the Tweets were flagged up by the Examiner.

The problem with their first Tweet isn’t the fact they were sharing news of something they had just done, it was more the snatch picture they felt like sharing, and the insensitive hashtag. Oh, and the fact it turned out the couple in question weren’t homeless at all.

Neither the picture nor the attempt at humour in the hashtag were needed. But the peril of Twitter, and Facebook for that matter, is that it is instant communication. Police forces are like various other organisations – including media outlets – who know the only way to make social media work is to devolve the many different accounts they need to the people who are most directly involved with the people they want to reach.

In days gone by, such a comment would never have made it to the public if it had passed through the police press office, or in the days before press offices, the local journalist speaking daily to the police Sargeant almost certainly wouldn’t have received such an inappropriate, and inaccurate, commentary.

For brands – be they police forces or newsrooms – to be relevant on social media, they need to engage properly with people and say stuff worth sharing. The Salford Facebook update does just that.

But for anyone suddenly in charge of a social media account on behalf of their employer, there are surely four simple lessons to learn from West Yorkshire Police:

  1. Make sure what you’re saying is accurate. A very basic, and very worrying, fail from West Yorkshire Police there.
  2. Don’t try and be too clever. Especially with hashtags – which after all are supposed to make it easier for people to find Tweets about the same subject, not to allow you to deliver a punchline without a spacebar
  3. Ask yourself: How do you want people to react to this? If it’s to celebrate your incredible wit then it’s probably not suitable.
  4. Think like a human. That should ensure you share what you need to, in a way which works for everyone.

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