Are ‘social chats’ right for your organization?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-d-chat-bubbles-storm-cloud-blue-background-bubble-gradient-image34914082One of the latest tools being used by organizations is the social chat – an online dialogue via social media channels. A social chat can happen through a range of social channels including Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and many others. Any channel with an interactive component can host a social chat, and which tool you use will depend on your objectives and where your stakeholder group or audience gathers.

We have been speaking with several clients about social chats, and our approach is always to take a good look at what we want to achieve with this type of outreach and to identify both the risks and the opportunities.

There have recently been several high profile social chats – and a few that have backfired – including a Twitter chat by the New York City Police Dept that created a huge backlash online.

The NYPD asked Twitter followers to post photos of themselves posing with officers – unfortunately, that’s not what followers posted. This campaign went sideways almost immediately. According to NYDailyNews.com, more than 70,000 people posted negative images. To their credit, the NYPD responded to this by saying that they were engaging in new ways of communicating with the community and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that was “good for our city.”

If you Google “failed social chats” – you can see many examples of the failures.

If you think a social chat is something that would benefit your organization or brand, you need to ask yourself some hard questions that include:

  • Do you have an engaged social media community? You can’t just jump into social media and hold a chat without first building relationships and creating a following and a community. If you only have 50 followers on Twitter, is that enough for an engaging dialogue?
  • What is your relationship with this community – has it been contentious or hostile? Have you authentically built up this relationship so that there will be a dialogue or discussion?
  • Have you reviewed what could be challenging, what the tough questions might be, and how you will respond? Expect tough questions and be ready to provide information in these areas. If you open the door to questions, you need to answer what is being asked – even if the questions are challenging.
  • What is the objective of this initiative? You need to be clear on what you want to achieve. Do you want to share information, get feedback, and engage on certain issues or topics? Why are you doing it? Who else in your industry has done this or are you the first? Understanding what you want to achieve is crucial. While social chats can be an excellent way to connect with your audience, they can also be risky – even for organizations with a good reputation.

Realize that as much as you can try to manage the direction of the conversation – online, you can’t control it. If even a small group of people want to derail the discussion and move it to their own agenda, they may be able to do that. You need to see that as a possibility and put something in place should this happen. You need to be prepared. And you need to have a plan in place about how you will authentically and respectfully engage with both supporters and detractors.

I realize that in this blog post I have been focused quite a bit on the negatives – social chats can be valuable when they are done right and when they are properly planned out. Not only does a social chat build relationships with your community, it also provides insight into the public perception of your brand. If you listen to both the positive and negative, you will have a real time perception of what your customers, clients or community think about your organization or brand.

One of the challenges we have seen is that sometimes a client wants to hold a social chat or engage in some other outreach via social media because they read about another organization that did it. It is important to take a step back and decide to do something like this because it will support your overall business goals – not just because you can. Engaging on social media can provide excellent results, but you need to strategically plan it out and make sure you cover all bases – including what could go wrong.

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