Nicole J. Davis
Q&A: How to Manage Your Institution's Social Media When Everyone on Staff Has Something to Share
Updated: May 16, 2020
Here is another question from the wide world of Museums and Social Media! This one surrounds how to manage expectations and articulate the realities to your internal staff. (Question has been edited for brevity and clarity)
Q: How do you handle requests from various departments to post things THEY want, in the WAY they want it? For example, I try to write our posts using a certain voice/tone that's easy to read, concise, engaging, and gets the pertinent information across. However, we have some staff members (usually higher level than me) who often have content they want to share, but that content is a dud. Regardless of the quality, sometimes I am forced to post things I know our audiences won't care about. When staff members come to me asking to post, they do so demanding that I do everything EXACTLY as they have laid out. The content is often too wordy, uses lots of acronyms, and assumes our social media audiences are also experts in our field. These staff members can get upset if I try to edit their "painstakingly crafted" content, even for platforms like Twitter. They say, "just do a bunch of tweets in a row!" They also dictate what photos and hashtags I can use for "their posts."
Several people on staff think that if the content has anything to do with their work, that they become the social media manager for that specific content. I am always happy to accept input and love to collaborate. But, I am feeling micro-managed by too many different voices on staff to the point where it's impossible to effectively share the content they're so excited about in ways that actually work. What do I do?
A: Oof. This one is a doozy, but not at all unfamiliar to those of us who manage social media for museums and cultural institutions. In this field, we are super lucky to work with tons of passionate, brilliant, and dedicated professionals who love their job. Working with curators, marketing directors, education, membership, and PR managers, researchers, scientists, historians, and every other kind of expert you can imagine, can often become about managing expectations as well as the content these folks are producing.
With these particular types of highly experienced, educated, and fiercely opinionated people, it can often be intimidating for the humble Social Media Manager to make executive decisions. SMMs often have their finger on the pulse of all the activities at their institution. We have to be. We are, what I affectionally call "content monsters." So we have an up-close and personal look at all the hard work our colleagues put in to their work, yet we still have to make decisions about what content is actually interesting to our audiences. Unfortunately, not everything our colleagues find interesting translates to social.
It can be hard to tell the Head of Collections that their four-page description about a convoluted discovery on an obscure piece of history might not exactly slap on Insta. Ya feel?
Here's a somewhat similar example from my experience:
The Education Department at my institution is always super jazzed about one of their most regularly attended on-going programs. They are constantly wanting to promote this program on "all our social platforms." The issue is that the hour-and-a-half long lecture style program is often highly academic in nature and takes place at 9:00 AM on a Wednesday morning. Granted, the content of this program is truly fascinating and something wide swaths of our audiences are interested in. However, a program that takes the form of a university seminar, beginning at 9:00 AM on a week day, is not something that can be successfully be promoted on "all" our social media channels, especially Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, which together represent almost 50% of the institution's social audience.
Why? Because the age demographics of Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter range from 13 - 45 years old, which is the same demographic that has shit to do at 9:00 AM on a Wednesday morning (like school and jobs). It is also a demographic that isn't necessarily going to get "hooked" by a page-long description about the wildly impressive credentials of the lecturer.
So, when confronted with the Education Departments enthusiasm (and their need to meet their own goals), I make sure I go in to negotiation armed with my analytics data. I pull basic demographic information to show exactly what types of folks are engaging with our institution's content, and which platforms are most effective in delivering specific content messaging.
By doing so, I clearly establish that there are only two, maybe three, truly effective platforms for promoting the program in the way the Education Department prefers - which include Facebook, the institution's bi-weekly email newsletter, and if the lecturer is particularly well know, Instagram Stories. I illustrate, in cold, hard numbers, that the program's demographic is wealthy white folks, aged 55 to 65+. This isn't a judgement, it's simply a fact that people who fall into this category are more likely to be retired or work part-time, thereby making them more willing to read long, academic program descriptions, and be converted into ticket buyers/attendees.
So by pulling the data, and describing what it means, I am able to safely articulate that if the Education Department wants to control the language and messaging for the program, then they need to understand that the audience will narrow in accordance.
Of course, everyone wants their content out there looking pretty on Instagram, and witty on Twitter, and cool on TikTok. But that's not how social media works. Even by editing the program description, attaching a cool photo, and using the right hashtags, there are many factors that go into whether or not promotion for a certain content will provide meaningful ROI (paid or organic).
In the end, I always gently remind my colleagues that I am the expert and I am working in good faith to deliver the results they're looking for. But I am also firm in my unwillingness to compromise the integrity of certain platforms with unfocused or misaligned content. I can't share the Education Department's long-winded description about an early morning, week-day program in an Instagram post because almost none of our Instagram feed audience will have the opportunity to attend. It's not because I don't like the program, but because the Instagram feed audience has a very narrow set of interests of which the program and its messaging do not match. To ignore that fact would mean the institution would forfeit loyalty among followers, see engagement on Instagram plummet, and depress reach and impressions for future content.
However, I try not to lead with the "can'ts" when I am negotiating with my colleagues - I want to always begin by sharing what I CAN do. In the case I described, what I can do is share the Education Department's messaging exactly as written in a Facebook post and in the e-mail newsletter. I can shorten the description for a Facebook event, find the perfect image, and engage folks who have said they're attending. While I can't do 15 tweets, I can compromise and do a thread that includes three tweets, a cool visual, and a link to the website. I can even find $50 in the budget to put together a mini ad-campaign!
I follow up my can-dos by describing why my strategy will work and schedule time with the Education Department to do a post-mortem after the program so we can share data and figure out what worked and what didn't work. I also remind my team that if the strategy I laid out doesn't deliver, then we can revisit and adjust for the next program. It's rarely a zero-sum game in the social arena.
- So here are my tips for dealing with a situation where you have staff members who want to dictate social media content in ways that go against your (the SMM's) better judgement.
1) Acknowledge that your colleagues are brilliant, but that their perspective may be different from yours. Regardless, you are on the same team in terms of the desired outcome. Remind them that you are an expert and that your recommendations are backed up by more than just your personal preferences.
2) Be sure to have a clear understanding of your institution's social media goals and the ability to describe the purpose of each platform. This is a good time to pull out your Social Media Strategy document if you have one (if you don't, it's perhaps a good time to get to work on it!)
3) Lead with the good news before you deliver the bad news. What you CAN do will be better received than what you can't do. Be proactive and solutions based.
4) Pull platform specific data that will illustrate your position/content strategy. Make sure the data is presented in a way that can be easily understood by non-SMMs.
5) When a strategy is agreed upon, make sure to routinely collect and share the data related to ROI so you and your team can evaluate and adjust as needed.
I hope this helps! Share how you have navigated your own challenges on this subject in the comments.
- Much love!