In the first segment of her series, Abbie Golden explains how to use social media to your advantage–and avoid common missteps.
Top: Screen Shot of the USEF Eventing High Performance Facebook page
So everyone knows by now that social media has become one of the greatest ways to market a business, blog or farm. Facebook is one of the first online places people go to find out consumer information, and if your company, farm or blog is not there you are missing out on an easy (not to mention free) opportunity to promote yourself.
Unfortunately, we also know that a social media train wreck can occur at the drop of a hat. In this installment of HN’s new “How To” series, I will outline some basic guidelines for maintaining a professional, public social media account that I picked up while working as an intern in the advertising industry. Below them you will find examples of barn, business and blog social media accounts that are worth checking out before you build your own.
So without further ado, here is my advice:
- 1. Define your goals and level of commitment.
Decide why you are making a social media page. If your goal is to build an audience, you should outline why you are doing so in order to create a coherent narrative. Are you marketing your riding business? An organizer of a show? An amateur promoting a blog? While a social media page may seem like a great way to increase visibility, once you actually create the page you may realize you do not have anything to say and fall down on posts. Can you commit to 2-3 posts per week? If you are running a business, an unmaintained Facebook page can appear unprofessional or worse–some may take it as a warning flag that your business is inactive. Furthermore, consistent posting gives your voice credibility and will keep your followers engaged (and less likely to remove you from their newsfeeds). If you’re putting in the effort to create a page, you should make sure you can commit to keeping it going.
- 2. Find a voice and stick to it.
Remember that a public social media page is not the same thing as your private personal account, and your audience is not necessarily going to give you the benefit of the doubt or care about irrelevant topics. Your posts don’t have to be bland, but they need to be consistent. Decide if you will post in first-person or third-person, with humor or without, and whether or not you will editorialize or remain strictly objective. At the ad agency I worked for, the PR group would come up with a list of roughly five adjectives to describe the “voice” of each client’s social media account. This is a great exercise for businesses and professionals and helps keep your personal voice from slipping into your marketing materials unintentionally. Keep your audience in mind at all times, particularly when dealing with humor or sarcasm. The five adjective exercise can help here too–if you ever question whether or not something is appropriate to post, check it against your list. Doesn’t seem to fit? Don’t post.
Get My Fix‘s Facebook page has a voice that is consistently fun and a little bit sassy.
- 3. Create meaningful content.
The best social media pages give a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes life of a business, farm, or individual that a regular website doesn’t show. Photos, video, links, and commentary are all equally important in building engagement and you should try to have a balance of all four. Share tidbits from your business or farm, but make sure they are relevant and not overly-personal. Have a quality profile photo (and cover photo for Facebook) on the top of the page, and “like” or “follow” other pages that you support. If you find a cool video or link online or on other pages that fit with your voice, share it (but watch out for copyright violations, particularly with photos). Sharing links and videos is a good way to get around writers block or lack of news and still maintain your page.
A foaling announcement on Iron Spring Farm‘s Facebook page.
- 4. Respond to followers.
You should be monitoring your page at least once a day, and if someone comments on your post or asks a question reply when appropriate. Here again it’s important to remember you are not on your private account and you should use the voice of your page. This is particularly important when dealing with disgruntled or angry followers. While it may be tempting to write back something snarky when someone attacks or disagrees with a post on your page, in the end it is only going to reflect poorly on you and your business. Check the private messages regularly and reply promptly.
An example from SmartPak Equine‘s Facebook page:
- 5. Remember the Internet is permanent.
A good rule of thumb about the Internet is that you should never post anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. Even if you think something is relatively private, it wouldn’t take more than a few clicks and a screen capture to make it available to thousands of people. For this reason, I recommend staying away from controversial topics on business-related pages (obviously if you are writing a blog and intentionally ruffling feathers, that is a different matter) and keep personal opinions about nearly everything to a minimum. You don’t have to be boring, but sticking to lighthearted topics and hard facts will make it easier to maintain a professional page and keep dissent and trolling to a minimum.
- 6. Remember you will never satisfy everyone.
I have written for EN for nearly three years and have been on the receiving end of my fair share of criticism and correction (both fair and unfair). If you create a social media page, chances are high that you will be too. Putting yourself out there in writing can be daunting and online commentators will say things they would never say to your face that can be demoralizing and hurtful. While it’s not fun, you can definitely takes steps to minimize backlash, like not posting opinions on a business page and sticking to your defined voice. However DO NOT delete comments you don’t like (unless they contain profanity or offensive threats) because it will only inflame the situation. Rather, work to create a diplomatic and measured response. If you are in the wrong, apologize. Thank people for their feedback. Particularly for businesses, social media pages have become outlets for customers to vent their dissatisfaction to an audience–your audience. Don’t give a dissatisfied customer the platform to turn otherwise happy users against you by responding in an unprofessional manner. Your best bet is to monitor your page regularly, address concerns when they arise, and avoid escalation.
Examples of successful social media accounts:
Next week’s installment: How to build a website without hiring a web designer!
Abbie is a recent college grad trying to find a way to work full time and compete as an amateur eventer. When she’s not writing a post for Horse Nation, she can be found at the barn, working at her research internship, and studying for the LSAT. She competes at the three star level with her 13-year-old Canadian Sport Horse, Arundel, and trains with Boyd Martin.
Abbie and Arundel competing in the Bromont CIC3*. Photo by Samantha Clark.