agile social media 

News happens in a flash, and thanks to social media, it travels even faster. So when an issue arises in social media, whether it’s a breaking news story or a customer complaint, you need to be agile enough to respond in real time.

Why is it important to be fast? According to StatCounter , the half-life of a shared link on Facebook is about 3.2 hours (the point in time when a link has garnered half of the engagement it will ever get). On Twitter it's even lower at 2.8 hours.

In other words, engagement around a given link or topic is fleeting, so you have to be quick to respond if you want to capitalize on or quell the hoopla around a subject on social media. So here are some tips to help you be a more agile social media marketer that can both capitalize on social opportunities, and repair brand damage -- but hopefully more often, it's the former.

Set Up Social Monitoring

You can't quell social media PR disasters or leverage new opportunities without, duh, knowing about those disasters and opportunities. So unless you want to spend the entire day clicking refresh on your Twitter stream, implementing some social media monitoring technology is the best way to stay on top of the conversations.

According to Zendesk , 62% of consumers have used social media for customer service issues. And if you don't use social media for customer service, news flash: consumers will do it anyway. And when customers take to Twitter, Facebook and the like with an issue, they expect a response immediately. To stay on top of these mentions and respond to them in timely manner, set up an alert or use HubSpot's social media prospects tool to help you monitor mentions of your brand and competitors.

hubspot social monitoring

The subject of social media monitoring is enough to take up an ebook (seriously, we wrote an ebook on how to monitor your social media ), but if you don't have time to go through that now, here's the bare minimum you should be doing to monitor your social media:

  • Set up mentions of your brand name, product name, and the names of company figureheads to get alerts when you're being discussed on social media.
  • Set up mentions of your competitors' brand names, product names, and their figureheads to get alerts when they're being discussed on social media.
  • Evaluate the sentiment of those mentions so you know if you're dealing with a PR problem, or if you have the opportunity to upsell to a current customer or even poach a lead from a competitor.
  • Monitor social media accounts, even if you are not active on them. Remember, just because your company doesn't have a Twitter account, doesn't mean consumers won't take to the Twittersphere to talk about you, your competitors, or your industry.

Set Up a Crisis Response Plan

Now that you're better equipped to identify a social media PR problem (we'll get to the opportunities later, let's just get the disasters out of the way first), implement a plan for dealing with crises once they arise on social media. Planning agility may sound like an oxymoron, but having a process in place will help you stay agile without backing yourself further into a corner. Here's what your crisis response plan should include:

  1. Determine what constitutes a crisis for your company. For some, a crisis may be a customer cancelling -- for others, that's already part of their everyday social media monitoring. Think about the negative instances specific to your business for which you don't already have a plan in place to handle on social media.
  2. Assign team members (and back-ups) to be responsible for each instance. For example, you may have determined your company has 3 potential types of crisis: customer cancellations, website problems, and negative reviews. You might send negative reviews and customer cancellation mentions to customer service, while website problems go to IT. Tell whoever monitors your social media to triage problems that come in and send them to the point person, in order of priority.
  3. In the event that complex situations arise, you may want to draft a holding statement. A holding statement is something you can put up on your website or blog that lets your audience know you're working on a large-scale issue and will update them when you have more information. The best holding statements will let your audience know when they can expect the next update -- for example, "each hour" or "by 3:00 PM EST", and where they can go for more information -- like your Twitter account.

If you don't have an answer for someone immediately or need more information from the sender, respond right away to say you'd like to help and want to get in touch via phone or email -- always move complex complaints to more appropriate communications channels. Put yourself in your customers shoes. In the event of a crisis, what information would you need to trust that the situation is being handled well? How often would you want to hear from the company? Often it's not lack of answers, but lack of communication that can turn a crisis from bad to worse.

Balance Speed With Knowledge

Being agile on social media goes beyond just responding first; in fact, a speedy response that isn’t well informed can do more damage than good. So how do you ramp up your knowledge on an emerging theme or topic -- whether a customer service snafu, a new competitive offering, or an exciting news story -- so you can process it and react quickly?

Always start by going straight to the source. Often you’ll hear about something first through a third party channel like a tweet or blog post, but these usually only offer a small glimpse of the entire picture. If you're dealing with a news story about a new Facebook feature, for example, scan the story for a link to the Facebook post that explains how the new feature works so you can be sure you don't mistake one journalist's interpretations for fact. This fact checking is necessary for customer service problems, too -- check with the designated contact from your crisis response plan to hear their side of the story. The more context you have, the more informed your response!

If you're looking to newsjack a story -- a great way to use your new agile social media superpowers -- use social media to seek out quick opinions, too. Twitter or community answer forums like Quora , LinkedIn Answers and Focus are great tools to take a rapid survey of a particular audience's thoughts on a topic. You can also search for existing opinions on the topic by following hashtags and setting up Google alerts to ping you as the conversation evolves.

This research becomes particularly important as a story or meme begins to take shape. Other blogs and companies will undoubtedly start to write on it, but that shouldn't deter you from publishing your own content around the subject. Performing this research will let you find a unique angle to the story that relates to your business, industry, or audience's pain point. Alternatively, you can set yourself apart by talking about it on unique channels or through distinct formats, like Pinterest or on videos and podcasts.

Look for Out-of-the-Box Opportunities

Sometimes you'll get struck with a bolt of creative genius, and find opportunities to align your brand with something happening in the news in a valuable way. For example, on what would have otherwise been a sleepy Tuesday night last week, a fire erupted in a Boston transformer station. Thankfully no one was injured, but the fire resulted in a massive black-out in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Traffic lights were out and the subway stopped running briefly. Meanwhile, Twitter activity and media interest around the story surged (no surprise there).

That's where Uber Boston, a car service, leveraged agile social media marketing like a superstar. They were quick to respond, offering half-off rides to and from the Back Bay. The offer, which was intended to support Back Bay residents and businesses, quickly spread across Twitter and got picked up by local blogs and news outlets. 

The Capital Grille, facing the possibility of having the meat from their Back Bay restaurant go unrefrigerated, also decided to get creative. They called the Southwick Zoo and arranged to donate $20,000 worth of top-notch meat to the zoo's lions. They filmed the whole process and posted the story on their Facebook wall . The story was picked up by multiple local news networks and spread via Twitter, racking up 331 "likes" and 51 comments on their Facebook page alone.

Both of these companies saw an opportunity in the unexpected blackout and leveraged it to attract new attention to their brands on social media. Campaigns of this nature can add depth to an ongoing story and, do some good, and get your brand exposure to a new audience by aligning yourself with an event otherwise usually to your product or service offering.

Use Technology to Make Updating Quick & Simple

To be an agile social media marketer, you need to think and act at the speed of light. But if you're spending time switching back and forth between all your social media accounts to post your updates, you're going to fall behind in a frazzled frenzy. Luckily, there are a number of tools available that you can add on to your browser window that will enable you to tweet, post to Facebook or otherwise promote content in a more efficient way.

One tool we use is HubSpot's social media publishing bookmarklet , which enables you to publish something you're reading to multiple accounts all at once without having to leave the page and go back to HubSpot. 

social media bookmarklet hubspot

Other add-ons and bookmarklets, like Shareaholic, Buffer App, and Hootsuite can typically be found in your browser's webstore. ( Here's Chrome's webstore ).

Being more agile in your social media marketing definitely takes a cultural shift within your office. You have to be prepared to put off established plans and postpone meetings in pursuit of an evolving issue or story. To make this a productive practice, it's important to measure and report on the impact of your efforts. Whenever possible, drive people back to a relevant landing page and measure clicks, inbound traffic and leads generated from your response. And certainly balance real-time responses with long-term, planned marketing campaigns. You'll need both to establish authority in your space and engage followers in the long-run. 

What do you do to stay agile on social media? Share your tips in the comments!

Image credit: Kevin N. Murphy

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Originally published Mar 22, 2012 1:35:00 PM, updated February 01 2017