Cutting corners on social media

I’ve been a part-time social media manager for a long time now. Other responsibilities and tasks have always made it hard to focus on the social media side of things. This is far from ideal. The stakes are high, opportunities to embarrass yourself and your organisation are plenty. There are opportunities to be seized and risks to be mitigated on social media platforms. To reap benefits, you have to engage. Yet, lots of managers throw social media responsibilities on people — often young people because they’re hip — as just another task in their job description.

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If you’re a manager, DON’T DO THAT.

If you’ve been tasked with starting social media campaigns with little prior experience and an already full plate, there are corners you can cut and methods you can use. Remember, however, that corner-cutting always comes at a cost. As a beginner, you won’t be good right away. You should manage expectations.

Chances are, your organisation is going to social media because they want to acquire traffic. Temptations are strong to dive head first in a paid campaign and get results on the spot. You should never start with paid advertising on social media. It would be best to establish a strategy and a baseline presence. That way, you may gather a following that will be an asset for future efforts too.

Be honest and strategize

Be very honest with yourself about the time and attention you can devote to them. Open only channels you can sustain and nourish. Think hard about what you have to contribute and what your audience wants.

What will you publish, for whom, and where? These questions are the most important. Answers depend entirely on what you’re selling and your unique constraints. No shortcuts there.

Start by listening. Research your topics, find what you can provide, find people’s pain points. This will help you determine what to publish. Once you start on social media, never stop listening and adapting. Monitor answers, comments, messages and answer them.

Before you do any kind of paid advertising, publish non-self-promotion updates/links. You should be able to publish helpful or entertaining things at regular intervals. Paid campaigns can help you build a following. It will be more effective if there’s valuable content on your profiles. People will follow your profiles in larger numbers if you have a track record of enjoyable and useful content.

Listening tools

Since you’re time-constrained and/or busy, you won’t be able to gather information actively. You’ll have to rely on tools to monitor the conversation online and find links to share with your audiences.

Large organisations circulate press reviews. You should subscribe. It will give you an idea of the conversation around your organisation and, perhaps, give you links to share.

Google Alerts remains one of my most prized tools. Set up one or several of these. Relevant Google results will pour into your e-mail account. Use straight quotes and the operators AND and OR. Like so…

Screenshot from 2016-08-30 22:36:04

Be sure to play with the advanced settings (content types, language, …) until you get the best results.

Publishing tools

You should craft updates for each social network individually because each has its own culture and “traditions”. That’s the ideal. You’re time-constrained and/or busy so you may publish links and updates on several social media services at once using Hootsuite. Remain aware that updates tailored to specific networks are best. Make sure your updates work in all their contexts.

Hootsuite also makes it possible to schedule updates. Scheduling is antithetical to genuine conversation which makes it risky. Never do it more than a few days in advance. Social media should remain a conversation. When there are major world events or other ripples through your communities, you’ll have to change your plans. Remember…

  • Monitor the conversation and events closely.
  • Have a device that can access all your accounts and especially Hootsuite to delete/cancel updates with you at all times.
  • Give a trusted colleague access to the accounts in case of an emergency.

Be ready for the traffic you buy

Acquiring loads of traffic is the dream most organisations chase on social media. Getting hits on a page with incomplete information is a waste. People will turn around and leave in an eye blink the page doesn’t answer their questions. They will leave if they feel mislead, if the page doesn’t load fast enough, if it doesn’t capture their interest… Problems with your website content can annihilate all your efforts. Best make it good before directing tons of expensive traffic to it.

Work with the people who take care of that website to iron things out. Ask yourself and them… Once they get on this page, what do you want prospects to do? What is the end goal? You can try to get as many prospects to give you their contact information and have your sales team contact them. You may want prospects to send an application through a form or place an order. Decide on a desirable outcomes and trace the steps that’ll get you there.

You should have the basics of this process (the sales funnel) figured out before launching any campaign. You’ll never get it 100% right. Be ready to keep iterating and adapting forever.

Set up your analytics right

There’s money on the line. For each paid publication or ad, you should estimate how many sales you made, how many prospects decided to contact you, etc. depending on your end goal.

Make sure the site where the traffic from the social network will land has Google Analytics enabled. Your objectives (form completions, post-sales thank you pages…) should be set as goals. Get help from the website’s developer for that. Make sure the data is *actually* collected. Require access to all relevant analytics panels to keep an eye on things.

Google Analytics makes it possible to create unique URLs to differentiate traffic sources. For each paid publication, create a unique URL and you’ll know which paid publication generated the most traffic. It will permit to accurately follow which link was clicked. You can, therefore, compare various versions of your ad and campaigns. Use the URL creation tool from Google Analytics. Everything is explained in the detailed help section.

A word of caution… You will most probably have big discrepancies between numbers from Facebook Ad Manager and from Google Analytics. This may feel weird to you and your bosses. There’s not much you can do about that. Analytics are only indications. Most marketers have to accept this as a fact of life. There are various ways to explain these differences in this Quora thread.

Take your time and let algorithms take theirs.

The more time you have to prepare and execute a campaign, the more bang you’ll get for your buck. On the contrary, the less time you’ll have to invest, the more money it is going to take to get results. With enough sharp thinking in your targeting (the criteria used to select people you want to see your ad) and enough time for the social networks’ algorithms to test and optimise your campaign, clicks, likes, comments or video play will be cheaper.

If you feel overwhelmed by these notions, you understand why this is a job ;). Being a beginner at this stuff and be put in a position in which you have to perform is stressful, I know. Don’t get discouraged though: read articles online, make mistakes and correct them, get help…

Thoughts on the latest Twitter abuse piece

The Buzzfeed piece about Twitter abuse that makes the rounds since last Thursday proves to be a very interesting read. The way the abuse problem has been left to fester is infuriating. So much so that while reading I took notes. Notes laced with profanity. Here are a few thoughts.

Free speech radicalism is an easy extremist tenet to hold in many ways. First, it is often defended by people who don’t know abuse at all. They, therefore, don’t have to make any sacrifices for this radical belief of theirs. Second, it is — in theory — a steadfast policy that protects the company from liabilities. They can then say that they’re a utility and don’t make content decisions.

It stems, however, from a weird idea of free speech. Free speech is great. I wouldn’t want the government to silence me but I want to be held accountable for the shit I say. Free speech radicals seem to have another definition. To many of them, free speech as being allowed to say whatever you want, often without suffering any consequences. Allowing people to be protected from the consequences of shitty actions and shitty words is not a moral imperative. It creates a toxic environment where a few assholes can police the speech of all the others by unleashing barrages of abuse and threats. It doesn’t help foster more productive debates. Just the opposite.

Yet, once people accept something needs to be done, the search for the ‘perfect solution’ begins… This search lead to paralysis as Vivian Schiller is reported as saying in the piece. Extremists always ask for a perfect solution before letting go of their own problematic one. Always seeking to swap an extremism for another. But that’s not how the social space works, that’s not how humans function and communicate. There needs to be moderation in every sense of the word. We need kind and intelligent judgment calls and concessions. There needs to be consistency obviously but no solution will ever be perfect.

Jack Dorsey is quoted as saying “No employee should ever be in the position of having to decide, subjectively, what qualifies as free speech and what does not”. This makes me doubtful that this problem will ever be mitigated. It will always come down to human judgment whether the judgment of a moderator or the judgment of an engineer designing an algorithm. Stress cases will always arise where the meaning of free speech will need to be discussed. Putting the burden completely on the users to moderate is again non-committal safe in the sense that investors might not punish the company and it won’t unleash lawsuits but it won’t fix the problem that for a vast majority of users, being on Twitter is very tiring work, an energy drain and often even a safety concern.

Large organizations all have things they’d rather not discuss (*cough* web governance *cough*), power struggles they’d rather not address, ambiguities that are preserved even if they hurt the business because it is believed that somehow these discussions would never end and distract everyone. I firmly believe leaders should encourage these discussions nonetheless. Especially in this case.

 

Suicide Squad: Hammered into shape with Harley’s mallet

First of all, be warned. This little essay is riddled with SPOILERS. There are a lot of SPOILERS here. Every second word is a SPOILER. I’ll assume you saw the movie. You’ve been warned about SPOILERS. Don’t come crying to me about SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS. So many.

We’ve lost the SPOILER-averse? Good.

“Suicide Squad” is not as good as it could’ve been. They hammered elements into the scenario with Harley Quinn’s mallet. The movie struggles to contain all that has been thrown into it. This doesn’t work.

Suffering from indecision

The movie suffers from a problem that affects most comics-based movies. It has trouble balancing fan service and broader appeal. In its bid to appeal to everyone and explain everything, its exposition is long and strange and forced. Members of the squad are introduced one by one as Weller speaks with high ranking national security officials in the restaurant. That structure which works in heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven feels wrong and unnatural here.

Having secondary characters come to the fore and important characters (like Batman) recede in the background is an ambitious project. To pull it off, character development should at least work well and fast. It doesn’t. Character development in “Suicide Squad” has too many moving parts. They take up all the space to the detriment of the story. Focusing on fewer elements would have stoked the ire of some fans but would have made things easier to order into a more functional cinematic narrative machine.

Focusing on characters and letting the audience spend some time with them could help us forgive problems with the story. Characters enter from the left and the right at odd times. Slipknot, for example, appears without any back story or forewarning only to be killed moments later. His arc exists solely to ensure that audiences understand nanobombs injected in all their necks are real and stakes are high. Katana appears seemingly out of nowhere too. So does the Enchantress’ brother/slave. These moves seem gauche and took me out of the flow.

Harley, Deadshot and ALL the others

Harley and Deadshot are introduced rather well — most probably because there might be romance in the air next. Their skills and motivations are covered early and they are therefore better established from the beginning. These characters work very well and the actors who portray them have stuff to work with. They do so very well. This creates expectations for other members of the squad which aren’t met.

The Joker is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole movie for me. The scene where the Joker offers Harley was out of character and didn’t do a thing to establish the nature of their relationship. However, the “Would you die/live for me?” was powerful and purposeful. Were it introduced sooner, it may have worked better.

Killer Croc is presented by Waller as damaged by the way he is treated because of his appearance. It is almost left at that. We’re not invited to try and understand his motives. He is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in character dysfunction. He is not one of the most well-known and oft adapted characters in the DC universe. The audience is right in expecting something more, especially since his unique ability to swim is very important to the dénouement. He deserved a better treatment.

For most other characters, seemingly random tidbits of backstory and dialogue are presented. They don’t form a coherent picture. It doesn’t smell like writers have the characters straightened out either. This problem is lurking throughout the DC universe and isn’t exclusive to “Suicide Squad”. As long as they are secondary characters, one can keep them a little blurred in a background of (sic) moral bankruptcy. As soon as you bring them to the fore, strategies to distance the “villains” from the “good” guys should be forbidden. Motives should be made clear. Moral complexity should be embraced. It seems the movie doesn’t bring them fully into focus and neither does it keep them in the background which makes for a blurry ensemble.

As antagonists go, the Enchantress and her barely one-dimensional brother are very sad. “She does magic, impressive shit — naked and covered in wet ashes” is the full depth of the character, it seems. Her brother is hastily introduced because the story reaches a stalemate in her confrontation with Weller. Neither him nor her have clear motives. The Enchantress’s plan materialises out of nowhere. Losing the brother, keeping the Enchantress under Weller’s thumb and making Weller the antagonist would have opened so many great doors.

A late glimpse of potential in the bar scene

Lots of the things I adore about the DC universe were definitely there.

  • Individuality and conformity in tension,
  • the impossibility (real or imagined) to adhere to “normal”,
  • the problematic relationship between mental health and criminality,
  • the age-old Gothamite question of contagious antisocial behavior

These are all themes and problems in the DC universe that I love. They are explored in “Gotham” way better and more thoroughly than here, obviously. In many ways, “Suicide Squad” could have been an even better venue to explore them because Harley and Mr. J. are present and everyone is farther along in their careers.

The bar scene is a pivotal moment. It made the characters’ struggles real and relatable. Three quarters into the movie is pretty late to establish the motivations and struggles of main characters. Elements about them gel and aggregate only at that point. If you’re gonna have a thin story, the movie could’ve been laced with more of a reflection around evil, what makes them bad, can they repent and reform, is a punishing prison system the best way. The elements are all there but they’re not developped to their fullest because of time constraints and completely out of order.

Amanda Weller does some terrible fucking things in the name of law, order and patriotism because she fears superhumans. Some prison guards are clearly sadists, what about that? What makes law and order so great if the “good” guys kill and torture too? What makes Batman different to Weller if he has offensive weapons? Deadshot and Flag have a conversation in the helicopter about their differences. Flag — whose name is funny in that context — gets out of the argument by stating that he’s a soldier. He has other reasons to be there but the argument just ends never to be referenced again. Loose ends like this are everywhere. It’s sad.

It would have been relevant to explore these issues more. As a culture, we desperately need more reflection around these topics as we grapple with gun violence, police brutality and various extremisms.