Pretty Simple: web, digital, social

Hazard sign of person falling into waterLast week I ran a couple of social media sessions at the annual Scottish Housing and Support Conference (SHASC) in Edinburgh. It was a joint effort alongside Louise Sutherland and Lauren Kobilnyk from Fife Council, who were talking about some recent “live Facebook Chats” they ran for local residents. They had some great successes with that, but I had been asked along to give balance by reminding people about some of the risks with using social media. My key message was not “don’t do it” but rather “do it properly”.

Here, then, is a summary of what I spoke about, looking at six key areas of potential risk, and how to manage them.

1. Reputation

Last year, burger giant McDonalds came up with the idea of #McDStories – a Twitter hashtag that would allow fans to share their fond memories of eating the restaurant’s fare. Somewhat predictably, the web was soon a-twitter with people using the hashtag to criticise the brand and share some rather unappetising tales:

Not my tweets – I don’t eat meat!

The point here is that we must remember that on social media, we do not own the conversation, we are only part of it. We can’t control the message and any attempt to do so will probably be quickly spotted and sabotaged.

Equally, though, the conversations are already happening, in a very open and public space. All we can do is decide whether or not we join in with those conversations. This is a radical shift from how organisations traditionally managed their reputation or brand, and one for us to carefully consider when entering the world of social media.

2. Online Safety

Next, and with many in my audience regularly dealing with vulnerable service users, I felt it important to mention the subject of online safety. As we create online spaces for our service users, we must ensure they are safe spaces. Some tips for doing this include:

  • Don’t share (or allow others to share) info that could put individuals at risk
  • Have a clear policy on how to deal with abusive content
  • Avoid “private” spaces which create illusion of privacy

That last one is worth explaining. Many social networks have privacy options that allow you to limit who can see your posts (for example, protected tweets or private Facebook groups). However, it’s crucial to remember that it’s still the internet, and concepts of security and privacy can be rather flimsy. A protected tweet, for example, can easily be copied, pasted and retweeted by one of your approved followers. And a private Facebook group is only as good as your confidence that the users really are who they say they are. Creating a false expectation of privacy and security can actually be more dangerous that stating, up front, that no such protection exists.

As a quick example of how these type of risks can often easily be managed, I spoke about one of our local schools who wanted to tweet from an overseas field trip. Their initial plan was to tweet their plans at the start of each day, but clearly this introduced the risk that they were publicly advertising the whereabouts of (potentially vulnerable) young people. By simply shifting it so that they tweeted after they had been somewhere, that risk was immediately mitigated.


Finally, I reminded the audience to beware of trolls – people engaging in online behaviour intended to intentionally anger or frustrate someone else in order to provoke a response. Trolls can be a risk to your reputation but more seriously could threaten your other users. The three main ways of dealing with trolls are to challenge them (the riskiest strategy, as they’re hoping for a response), block or ban them (perhaps the safest but not very democratic) or simply ignore them. You can read more about dealing with trolls in this previous blog post.

3. Exclusion

The web and social media are powerful tools for inclusion and reaching those with whom we traditionally struggle to have contact, but we must remember it’s not for everybody:

…nearly a quarter of UK households still do not have access to broadband in their home. This rises to nearly a third of households in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in some places – such as Glasgow – the figure is closer to 40%

Across the Divide – Tackling Digital Exclusion in Glasgow, CarnegieUK Trust

Clearly, social media should never be used in isolation. It should be part of your wider campaign to engage with service users.

As we have both a moral and legal obligation not to discriminate against individuals, it’s important to remember the web’s potential both for inclusion and exclusion.

4. Raised expectations

facebook-likesOK, let’s assume we do really well with our social media campaign and people like it. Great, but are we prepared for success?

I challenged the audience to think about how they could build a sustainable presence online, one with the capacity to grow as the audience grows. It’s no good starting a conversation with a few people online if you then can’t maintain that conversation when their friends join in too.

Aim for consistency and be clear about the scope of your online presence. If you don’t plan to use social media to actually talk to people, make that clear. It’s not ideal, but at least you will manage expectations. Far better than frustrating thousands of people who want to talk to you, only to find you’re ignoring them.

5. Staff training

Next, I briefly spoke about the need for decent staff training to ensure your staff have the right skills and experience to use social media effectively. I began by asking the audience…

Who is the brains behind your social media presence, and what if they left today?

To help tackle the “brain-drain” risk, I recommended the use of:

  • Policies and guidelines
  • Best-practice case studies
  • Training courses or eLearning modules
  • Skill sharing (formal or informal e.g. surgeries)

And on that last point, I invited people along to Edinburgh’s own Social Media Surgeries which take place most months. If you’re not based in Edinburgh, check out to see what’s on in your local area, or even start up your own one!

6. Resources

Finally, a mention for the need to give your social media presence the proper resources. Most of the main platforms are free to use, but we shouldn’t forget that time is money and if we really want these efforts to be a success, they should be taken seriously. It shouldn’t be a quick job you do on your coffee break!

My tips for properly resourcing your social media presence include:

  • Keep it well-fed. A neglected account stands out.
  • Little and often – check every day!
  • Use tools to schedule updates (e.g Hootsuite)
  • Get buy-in from across your organisation

We finished the sessions with some really interesting and varied Q&As, and I know of at least one person who’s already signed up for Twitter as a result – good luck to you all and maybe see you at our next surgery.

Want more? Check out my top 5 things to leave out of a social media proposal.

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2 Responses to 6 social media pitfalls, and how to avoid them

  1. Sue says:

    Attended this presentation, it was excellent! Some really sound advice.

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