Welcome to post #5 in a 7 part series examining the top trends in social media for 2015, brought to you by @natureclicker (with much assistance from the rest of the internet). Check back to see #6 in the series.
5. “Agility” – A Handy Guide to Interpreting 2015’s Buzzword of the Year.
Working with social media can be an unpredictable and precarious endeavor. There are countless questions related to content — such as how much you information you should be sharing about yourself, your organization, your business, and even your goals. Additional issues of when, where, and why to post often further complicate the subject, but content aside — the transparent and conversational elements of social media have their own unique ability to generate both new opportunities and new dilemmas for users.
If you’re engaging with social media with a goal in mind, you’ve probably noticed by now that simply having a profile is not enough. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how disheartening it is to search for a restaurant, business, organization, or other group on social networks, only to find the bare-bones digital equivalent of a mailbox pamphlet — but I’m going to anyway.
Obviously, social media profiles need to contain more than an address and map-view. We may be long past the days of phone books and brochureware, but even profiles with great content aren’t necessarily doing any better than poor Phoebe’s Cupcakes here at driving engagement or community building.
So, what is agility — and what does it mean for social media?
Essentially, agility boils down to your level of commitment to your followers, friends, networks, and other digital designations. After combing through a considerable heap of information regarding “agility” currently available online, I came up with the following bullet-points to share today. There’s definitely more to say, but this list will certainly get you by.
☞ Agility is interactive social
Agility is often used to describe a set of characteristics that many already hold as core components of social media. For example, the idea that in social media — conversation counts. While the early web was populated with pages that talked at you, social profiles encourage users to talk with you. It’s a simple lesson, but can also easily be lost in the shuffle — even with the best of intentions. It’s not necessarily a new concept, but “agility” is a good reminder that when your focus is on content (and not people), it shows.
You can create the greatest infomercial in the world, but it doesn’t make the audience forget that you’re selling them something. Social media is a communication tool, so don’t forget to communicate with your audience. Depending on your platform, this could mean sending direct tweets, responding to comments, liking posts, or even just engaging in the conversation.
You don’t need to have all the answers, but a participant is typically more popular than a loudspeaker.
☞ Agility is adaptive
Much like its dictionary definition, practicing agility in social media calls for flexibility, strength, and guts. Adaptive and flexible social media requires active listening, both to your community and for the things they care about.
One example of agile social media practices comes from not just listening to your community, but from watching their behavior and learning from it. Don’t get out of control here, but keeping an eye out for fundamental changes can be incredibly important for understanding your audience, what they want, and where they’re going.
For instance, agility is knowing where your audience is. Are you looking to share your content with 18-25 year-olds that enjoy live music and video? Are you seeing your Facebook “likes” dwindle and struggling to figure out why? Have you checked out Snapchat or Twitter lately? You might find some familiar faces. Agility isn’t about adopting every social platform, but it is about knowing where your audience is moving — and if they’re moving, you better get packed in a hurry.
Another particularly agile technique is known as newsjacking, a term used by author David Meerman Scott to describe the practice of co-opting trending stories, ideas, or otherwise attractive content in order to draw attention to your own. Trending stories have a tendency to burn out quickly, especially on Twitter, so speed, flexibility, and creativity are the key to agile newsjacking. For instance, take these two examples I just pulled from the interwebs.
Exhibit A: Oreo Cookies — A Lesson in Agility 101
Oreo is often referred to as the first of the great newsjacking social posts. I don’t know how they’ve managed to prove this, but there you have it. What I won’t dispute is the veritable firestorm of attention this post received from Twitter, the media, and social managers.
When the power went out in the Superdome during the 2013 Super Bowl between the Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, Oreo tweeted this image during the thirty-four minute blackout. It was re-tweeted over 10,000 times in the first hour, and other brands were quick to piggy-back with similar strategies.
When Ad Age interviewed Sarah Hofstetter, president of Oreo’s brand agency (360i), she revealed that the Oreo graphic was “designed, captioned and approved within minutes,” in a TriBeCa mission control center, also described as a social media war room, filled with agency members, marketers, strategists, community managers, social media listeners, brand members from Oreo, and nearly a dozen other “creatives.”
Did Oreo cause the blackout? No (wait, maybe?), but they definitely benefited from it by actively listening to their audience and practicing agile social. Each half of this equation is particularly important in the Oreo case, because it’s not like Oreo’s marketing, digital, social, creative, brand members, and community managers typically sit around in a physical “war room” waiting for something, somewhere, somehow to happen.
They failed to mention the presence of a single clairvoyant in that list, so its unlikely Oreo had any advance notice on the blackout — but they showed a readiness to listen to their target audience at a time and in a virtual space that fit their needs. The post itself wasn’t anything out-of-the-ordinary for Oreo’s brand voice, which is typically filled with clever puns and even a little tongue-in-cheek, but took unique advantage of the present situation by newsjacking a widely talked about moment.
Perhaps the most remarkable element to this story, and one that is often missed, is that this off-the-cuff and reactionary quick-witted tweet, was in the works a full 18-months before the Super Bowl, proving that while social media agility may be time-sensitive and targeted — spontaneity can be planned for.
Exhibit B: Gap Inc. (and friends) – When Newsjacking Goes Wrong
When it comes to taking advantage of trending news, not all stories are created equal. Although an undeniably trending hashtag in October of 2012, #HurricaneSandy was also an unequivocally bad choice for Gap’s attempt at newsjacking. Whereas organizations like The American Red Cross were using #Sandy hashtags on Twitter to save lives, Gap thought it might be a great way to boost online sales.
Although the brand later removed the post (due to some particularly scathing re-tweets and threats to boycott) and offered some sort of apology, tweeting “To all impacted by #Sandy, stay safe. Our check-in and tweet earlier were only meant to remind all to keep safe and indoors.” — the damage had already been done. Replies to the apology post were quick to call out what some believed an attitude of “sorry-but-we’re-not-sorry.”
Gap wasn’t the only brand to take the low-road on #Sandy, and even hugely visible companies like American Apparel, Sears, and Urban Outfitters fell victim to the allure caused by trending topics. While effective in moderation, the Hurricane Sandy debacle is a great reminder that, while effective in moderation, newsjacking can also been seen as insensitive, exploitative, and just plain out of touch.
Also, it’s important to note that not everyone agrees that newsjacking is a useful social tactic, and its overall effectiveness is obviously (see above) best determined on a case-by-case basis. For more information on how-to (and how-not-to) newsjack, check out iacquire and Spokal.
☞ Agility is responsive
Much of the “agility buzz” in social media marketing communities (and beyond) focuses on reactionary tactics and crisis management. Sure, no one wants to be in a situation where the internet is pounding down your door for answers — but it happens. What happens next is where agility comes into play.
As we saw with Gap’s attempt to newsjack Hurricane Sandy, your reply to criticism matters at least as much as your original message. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and when you’re right calm down. There are plenty of examples available online which cover the unbelievable ridiculousness that is arguing with your own audience, so do yourself a favor and don’t become a meme.
Managing crises using responsive social media requires an open channel of communication that can function quickly and efficiently. Do you have a team of lawyers, managers, marketing team members, and brand consultants that need to approve each Tweet you send? I sincerely hope you have an Oreo-style war room built into your office, because a heavy chain-of-command can place some serious limitations on your response time. In the fast-paced and post-permanent world of social, there’s often a battle regarding what and when to post during a period of intense communication from an audience, regardless of the reason behind it. Balancing questions like: What if we say something wrong? What if we say something inflammatory or our message is miscommunicated? — with others like: What happens if we don’t say anything? can be a baffling experience.
Of all of the “agility is responsiveness” material I found, Social Media Examiner’s “how to” list did a great job of pulling it all together. Below, I’ve listed their top ten methods to interact with angry customers, but the list itself could be applied to any online interaction with an audience.
#1: You can’t respond to conversations you don’t see.
#2: Determine if it’s worth a response.
#3: Act quickly.
#4: Speak like a human.
#5: Offer a real apology or don’t apologize.
#6: Offer to make it right.
#7: Never get into a fight.
#8: Keep the discussion in the open.
#9: Use fans and 3rd party sources to help tell the story.
#10: Involve them in the fix.
SME’s post does a great job of elaborating on their potential strategies, so make sure to check it out.
At the end of the day, the more you can plan for “agility,” the more you’ll have to work with in scenarios like these. Essentially, an agile social media strategy is no different from involving yourself in social media, despite the shiny new lingo. Knowing your audience, their interests, and their expectations is key — but the rest is up to you.
There are a number of definitions for “agility” on social media. I’ve covered some of the basic themes found in other sources here, but does agility mean something different to you? Please share!