Last week was a challenging week to be a Community Manager in Ottawa.
We kicked off the week on a high note, two professional and social friendly conferences were in town Public Sector Social Media 2014 and TiECon Canada, and we jumped in to use both of these events to help gain exposure for many of our clients by jining in on the chatter from their accounts. Even if they weren’t represented at the conference there was a ton of relevant and high quality content being pushed out by influential community members and our client could join in by engaging in the chatter online. By engaging in these very specific and client relevant events we were able to see a nice jump in impressions and follows for the clients we injected into the conversation. It was a great start to the week! We often use this technique (we call it backchannel surfing) to target and engage with real people that we know are highly relevant and usually fairly influential, attending a specific trade show, conference or event. We watch the event hashtags and keywords and if the event attracts or caters to a relevant audience we can engage in the hashtag, add people to lists for future engagement and even post event Storifys on client blogs to summarize the events and become a resource and reference – all without the client having to attend. Sometime we even sponsor organized chats and offer incentives during an event to help draw more people from the event online and raise awareness for our client. Sponsoring a chat is much cheaper than a plane ticket to Vegas and we still get a decent amount on one-on-one introductions and our clients name out there. But to bring it back to last week, we kicked it off with some backchannel surfing with two great conferences and it was quite effective!
Then on Wednesday the news took a turn, we were already on alert from the attack on soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu on Monday – we didn’t have a lot of content impacted by these events and we monitored the feeds but had not made any major changes to engagement or content patterns. That all changed when the first tweet about a shooting at the war memorial rolled in. All of our Ottawa based feeds switched from social channels to news source and information sharing channels. Immediately people only wanted to see posts about the updates on the unfolding situation. We immediately silenced all chatter across Canadian feeds, and quickly rescheduled all content. Nobody wants to hear from a brand in a time like this, all the viewers of social media are looking for at that moment is an update on what is going on. We did see, as we silently watched the feeds scroll by, people on Twitter and Facebook lashing out at any Ottawa brand or business that wasn’t so quick to reschedule their planned tweets and Facebook posts. We cringed each time we saw one because we knew that there was a Community Manger or Marketing Professional out there somewhere that was already having a stressful day and this could very well have some lasting negative consequences to their career when all is said and done.
When considering which clients needed to be silenced we looked at the audience makeup (the new Twitter analytics have made this very easy for Twitter, and Facebook has had this for a long time now for pages) if we had more than 20% of the following from the Ottawa area it was an automatic silence and reschedule. Anything with less than a 20% follower base in Ottawa we looked at on a case by case basis and considered the audience, topic and urgency. Most content was rescheduled because in a case like this, it is much better to be overly cautious than to have a brand end up being the target of anger and ridicule or seen as insensitive and out of touch with its audience. We were operating in a respond only when spoken to engagement mode and no one wanted to speak to a consumer or B2B brand in Ottawa that day.
We do have one example of an exception on how we had a brand use social media in a disaster differently from just the week before. Usually we pull all content in the wake of an emergency, unless that brand has something unique to offer of value during that time. We had that happen when there was a deadly avalanche in Annapurna Nepal. One of our friends and clients had a sister caught in the avalanche and we helped them set up a Facebook page in minutes to help people connect and communicate with friends and family and share information on the rescue efforts in Nepal. We used their business social media channels – which had nothing to do with Nepal but had everything to do with the owner of the company missing a sister and trying to offer help to others in the same situation – and we used all of their channels and ours to share the Facebook page and help get people together to share information. Thankfully he was able to get in contact with his sister and she became a huge help on the ground in Nepal to encourage people to contact friends and family and let them know they are ok and to share the names of other survivors they had crossed paths with on the Facebook page so others could be comforted. This is one, very specific example of how a brand engaged in an emergency for the greater good and it worked out. Not because they were trying to boost the brand by leveraging the tragedy but because they were uniquely tied to it and offering help.
Back to Ottawa, the day after the tragic shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and heroics of Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers and with a resounding message from the community to go on with life as normal and not to let this attack change anything, on Tuesday we slowly reintroduced some content on some channels and on Friday we intended to be back at full force with an eye for sensitive topics and being careful of what we said to who. That was until the afternoon when a school shooting happened just north of Seattle and we pulled all content for the entire weekend. Just in case.
Social media can be a great tool for brands and engagement at the right time, but this was not that time.
We watch the social media feeds as much as we chat and push content out on them so we can be in tune with events, and news, good and bad and so we can respond appropriately. That might mean injecting our clients into backchannel chats for events they aren’t attending or silencing all messaging and becoming invisible for a little while. Sometimes we can newsjack and take a breaking or trending topic and quickly spin a blog post or image post for a client with their unique angle, comment or thoughts. But newsjacking is for things like new tech releases, big company mergers or moves, people jumping or singing from space, exciting sporting news, science discoveries, and other newsworthy but not news eclipsing events.
There is never a “usual” day when you work in social media, you never know what will get thrown at you. So that being said, I am incredibly proud of the team for being able to quickly identify and evaluate breaking news and make the right decision. Should we newsjack it, backchannel surf it, should we disappear for awhile or should we continue, business as usual. Today we head back to full engagement and content, we hope this time for a good long while. We have the last few weeks in our hearts, minds and memories, but we roll on with the news feed, business as usual.