A Year @ Dogs Trust: What I’ve Learned

Yesterday marked my first anniversary at Dogs Trust. Among the lovely, supportive comments about this that I received was one that really made me proud, from Howard Lake of UK Fundraising writing on the Dogs Trust Facebook page:

In that case, congratulations on all you’ve achieved in that time. I have to say I’d assumed you’d been there for much longer, given what you’ve done for the charity.

I practically did a Ribenaberry jump when I read that. It’s totally testament to the welcoming, supportive, creative atmosphere here. We do have an exceptionally open-minded Marketing Director who will sell the idea of social media to the rooftops if you give him good reason to, and the Digital Marketing Manager practically created the web department on her own some time ago so keen was she to go into this area. We’re a passionate bunch, and I like to think that seeming like I’ve been around forever is a side effect of that.

Anyway, enough about what I’ve done, what I’m more interested in is what I’ve learned about social media since I joined the team. Some of it was not new to me, but allowed me to form stronger opinions about what social media are and aren’t, and strip the jargon away to get to the communications heart of it all.

I could go on about this until the virtual cows have given up and tipped themselves, but I’ve picked my top three social media soapbox subjects.

1. Social media are the perfect platform for personalised customer service

I’m not just talking about the personalised email, but about the comments, responses, conversations and Q&As that take place on social sites all the time. I’ve often said I’m better at the Q&A than the presentation, despite being a passionate talker, because I’m at my best in a situation where real two-way communication is taking place. The presentation is the website: glossy, informative, nice looking, easy to understand and approachable. The Q&A is the meat on the bones, the questions, the criticisms, the real people behind the organisational front. That is what using social platforms is all about. If as a business or charity you don’t get that, you should stay away. The penalty is not failure to be noticed, but being noticed doing the wrong thing.

2. Naming names is powerful

Every time I’ve replied to someone, I’ve tried to use their name: “Hi Jane” “Hey John” “Thanks Chris”. The vast majority of the time I’ve done this, people have said “wow, you used my name.” That’s them up there – it’s them the ‘voice’ of the organisation is talking to. It’s so vitally important to respect someone’s offline reality. They have names, families, pets, jobs, interests – lives. Mentioning their name is a small, easy and never-forgotten way of showing that.

3. Moderation needs a balance between disclosure and distance

Being a community moderator is a bit like being a teacher (and here I speak from experience). You want to be friendly, approachable, informal and, hell, even liked. No harm with wanting people to think well of you. But you also need to be the respected voice of the website gods, who can enforce rules. When you get the balance right – and everyone slips at times – you need only deliver a quick reminder to get people into line. Then again, you need to be confident in pulling out the big guns quickly and efficiently if you genuinely need to, and this can mean a no explanation approach. Allow me to explain before you think I’m breaking Social 101 commandments.

Suppose you ban someone. No-one else on the site has the right to know why  – that’s between you and the banned person – and you shouldn’t have to justify yourself all the time. This is not the same as saying you’re not accountable to your community – you are, without them the site fails – or that their feedback should not be seriously considered. But if you’ve got good, transparent, sensible and reasonable rules, you shouldn’t have to justify them again every time. Just direct people to the right place.

That’s not even slightly a summary of 12 months in a handful of paragraphs, but this is what’s at the forefront of my mind going into year two. Well, that and Disney World.

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