Media Trust – Managing Social Media

I’ve been a wee bit cheeky and broken a rule of social media – being topical and timely – by only blogging about this even three days after it happened, but in my defence I did tweet throughout! We were unable to attend the whole event, which featured the following line-up:

Chair – Daren Forsyth, former Director of Innovation and New Media, Media Trust / BBC

Michael Waugaman (Consultant) – Seeding, growing and managing a community

Jasmine McGarr (Tempero) – Voice of moderation: safety and reputation management

Dean Russell (Precedent) – An overview of third sector social networking

As well as a case study from us, and the chance to be in the second Q&A session. J presented, overcoming her nerves, and I piped up in the Q&A since many of the questions were from people wanting to know about the everyday nuts and bolts. We were lucky enough to see Dean Russell’s presentation; lucky because he speaks an awful lot of common sense about how to start, which websites to consider, how to gain internal buy in and the ‘voice’ you should be trying to project. Luckily, he likes Dogs Trust – I beamed when he said he really enjoyed following us on Twitter because of our good professional / personal balance of tweets.

As is often the case with these events, the Q&A gets to the heart of the issues much more than the presentations, no matter how good they are. It is where the meat of the problem is finally chewed on, and I was asked one of the best questions I had been so far: “If you had to choose only two sites to focus on, which would they be?”. The woman in question had very little time or resource. I said Twitter and Facebook because you can achieve the most on these two with the least amount of time; we’ve just rehomed a second dog thanks to Twitter conversations, and in a year 40,000 people have amassed on Facebook, which makes it easy to send out updates to a lot of people quickly. But it was definitely an interesting question, and one that I hadn’t been asked before.

Then I was asked the other question – “do you think your job will be the same in 3-6 months time?”. The way it was asked, it was very clear that what was meant was “isn’t your job just a bit made up and a fad?”. Perhaps it would be if all I did was specialise in very specific community moderation, but I am involved in all aspects of digital marketing. Right now we’re looking into integrated online and offline campaigns, for example. I replied “probably not, but I’m alright with that,” and went on to explain how to me, social media is just another form of traditional, good old-fashioned customer service and marketing. I have found that my particular skills lend themselves to the online world more than the offline, but the end result is still the same.

I’m just a writer who has a knack for online customer service, and forming relationships. Nothing strange, shortlived or particularly new about that, is there?

Disney is the model non-profits can learn from

Guru nominations aside, I make no secret of the fact that I think much of social media marketing resolves down to good old fashioned common sense plus good communication skills. Writing online is different to writing for print, but both are forms of storytelling. If you’re creative, polite and honest with a decent grasp of spelling and grammar, you’ll probably find the seeds of a good blogger inside yourself.

Of course, that’s breaking it down to its most simplistic form, but I do think that’s a useful thing to do. This is because when you look at the bare bones of how and what you’re communicating, you find inspiration and ideas come from rather unexpected sources.

I’m a huge Disney fan. Massive. Lifelong. Since my first visit as a four-year-old to my last visit as a twenty-four-year old. I’m going again in a month’s time, to spend two blissful weeks in the vicinity of what is undoubtedly one of the Happiest Places on Earth. But until recently I hadn’t joined up my love of the Mouse with what I do on a day-to-day business. After all, I work for a charity, not a commercial organisation. Sure, charities can (and should) learn from businesses, but what we do online is quite different, right?

In the case of Disney – wrong.

The main difference between the average charity and the average business is one of product. We’re selling the gift of a better existence to a person or animal, and in a way that is our online advantage, because it naturally lends itself to storytelling. Updates about dogs needing homes, Sponsor Dog information, guest blogs from dog owners, animal-related news… for us there’s a veritable fount of stories to be delivered and many ways to deliver them. We blog, Tweet and find a winning combination of inspiration, storytellers and audience online. Many companies would salivate over that kind of access to close interaction; we delight in the ability to be able to talk and – more crucially – listen to our supporters.

We’re not selling a product; we’re describing an ideal, and inviting people to become part of making it a reality, thanking them as we go.

But Disney has lots of products, right? It even has a paid for social media product. So what on Earth does it have in common with a charity that can help non-profits learn the rules of the game?

Stories.

Disney, unusually among commercial conglomerates, sells an experience as much as it sells actual products. It sells being part of the Disney dream. It has an army of dedicated advocates and fans, who take their evangelical love of the company and instill it in their children. It absolutely revels in stories from visitors – the Disney Moms Panel is sheer genius – and gives a platform to everyone it can to talk, talk, talk, interrupting as little as possible.

Human nature has not changed thanks to the Internet. People still, at heart, just want a voice. Charities have the privileged chance to give it to them, and they might not have Disney’s budget but they can share its passion. I will be watching carefully, and taking notes.

Amnesty International: Brainstorming social media

Last night I was privileged to be invited to pay a visit to Amnesty International UK alongside a small crew of social media bods (from the strategy consultants to the community managers like me). The topic was Amnesty’s use of social media and, in particular, their network, ProtectTheHuman.com.

Clearly the details of the discussion will, for now, remain inside Amnesty’s walls. But for me it was hugely interesting to see how a different – and very much international – organisation operates online. Dogs Trust and Amnesty are, at heart, very different kinds of organisations. Dogs Trust is a collection of centres in the UK doing the front line work, all managed from and supported by an HQ hub, working in one country with one over-arching goal which is the good welfare and treatment of dogs. The International reach is there, but limited, and mostly advice-based.

Amnesty is an attempt to marshall the collective power of driven individuals to further a common goal – the good welfare and treatment of people – but on thousands of fronts: stopping violence against women, pressuring restrictive governments to allow greater civil liberty, condemning torture… the list is brutal and endless. The International reach is phenomenal.

But what’s interesting is how little of this matters to the basic principles of social marketing and speaking to people online. Because, although there are individual difference (what approach you take with Twitter, for example, when you’re trying to discuss a million topics at once), the overall approach is the same no matter which website you use, what language you speak and what subject you’re talking about. People all over the world use the Internet pretty much the same way, and although the individual approach can be tweaked for the organisation depending on the desired end result, the ideas that came up in discussion were all pretty much universal.

And almost all of them were basic, old-fashioned common sense.

I was heartened to meet a group of people who all think of the web in the most clear, logical, common-sense terms. They all work hard and have brilliant ideas. I can only hope they thought my contributions were as useful, and that I’ll be invited back to find out more in the future.