Social Media All-Stars
Puget Sound Social Media Summit: Takeaways and best practices
Senior Account Executive
in september, Tyler and I attended the Puget Sound Social Media Summit which brought together public agencies to discuss best practices and industry trends in social media strategy. Hosted by King County and the City of Seattle, the event featured a keynote address by Emma Spiro, Principal Investigator at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. Attendees included PIOs and social media administrators from state agencies, municipalities and other public service organizations.
In our breakout sessions, we learned about the incredible effort these agencies have made to create transparency and engagement with their audiences. Warren Kagarise, event organizer and digital engagement manager for King County, said it best: “The social media leaders represented at the Summit understand the importance of experimenting with new tools and new ways of storytelling to engage our communities. Perhaps most importantly, they also analyze often — and use data to make the case, both to the community and to leadership, about why social is a vital channel for connection.”
Within public agencies, communicators are challenged to deliver compelling, competitive social media programs while demonstrating value and accountability to the people they serve. Here are some social media program best practices we took away from the summit that are relevant to both public and private organizations:
Let your organization’s personality shine.
What is your brand personality? Are you light-hearted and funny? Do you have established content guidelines and tone? Your brand personality should be authentic to your organization, understood across your teams and provide value to your audiences.
With so many sources competing for our community members’ attention, we must always put our audience first.
Develop a clear brand voice and build your audience’s trust by being consistent. Social media is often the first resource the public seeks out to ask questions and vent concerns. Train your message carriers and ensure social media teams and influencers have the tools and information they need to respond to questions and craft effective content. Social media teams should be closely integrated with PIOs or other communications staff so they can escalate crises or opportunities and move quickly. Ensure your organization establishes a brand personality that is sustainable in the event there are changes in your staff or social contributors.
Use humor (but use it strategically).
In line with finding a brand voice, many agencies are folding humor more prominently into their social media content strategies. Both Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Police Department have found ways to weave LOL-worthy content into their feeds to balance out their essential, non-humorous content. We also love the work City of Issaquah, King County Metro, National Weather Service and WSDOT are doing across social media platforms.
Humor can help you engage with followers, disarm tensions and be relatable. You can use self-deprecation, absurdity or hyperbole through GIFs and memes, which feels authentic to social media platforms and can help your organization build meaningful connections with your audience. But, you should ensure the tone remains consistent and in line with your brand values.
Also consider how humor is perceived across various social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram each have different sensibilities. For example, timely quips and absurdity play better on Twitter, whereas on Facebook, users prefer humor that is slightly more traditional.
Be accurate and transparent.
Basic PR principles still apply to social media communications — and for public agencies, these communications are considered public record. Elected and appointed officials are expected to participate in social media. Encourage your leadership to be transparent and accurate in their statements to build and retain trust. When combined with other best practices, your following is sure to grow.
Your following might also jump up during a crisis, such as a natural disaster or political scandal. The summit’s keynote speaker, Spiro, underlined it’s not uncommon for the public to have a low awareness of a public figure or agency’s work or role until a crisis. Understand there may be a lack of recognition among your audience around the different levels of government — local, county, state or federal — and different departments within each government office. Work to build a strong understanding of your roles and services amongst your audiences before a crisis strikes.
Provide equitable and accessible information.
Many agencies in Washington State are already going above and beyond to provide greater access to communications by leveraging multiple channels, developing materials in several languages and creating accessible formats. Improved access should be the rule, not the exception.
However, information equity and access still remains an issue. Users and adopters of these platforms may not fully represent the diversity of your community—especially in age and ethnicity. Staff members developing the communications may not represent or understand the communities you are aiming to reach, which often requires deep cultural knowledge and/or understanding of cultural preferences. And complex and ever-changing algorithms on social media platforms can make it difficult to reach all audiences.
That’s why it’s so important to commit to transcreation. Invite and recruit community members from the audience you are trying to reach to participate in your campaign and content development. In addition, make sure to simplify your language on social media to be more accessible to all. Metaphors, similes and idioms can be confusing to English language learners and can be misinterpreted by individuals relying on screen readers.
Remember social media should be just one tool in your toolbox of communications tactics. Often, on-the-ground methods of communication such as door-to-door outreach are still effective, especially for reaching minority populations. The digital world has expanded the ways in which we communicate, engage with others and tell stories. As Warren explained, “In order to be the best storytellers possible, we have to remain relevant to everyone we serve.”