Socially accountable

Six lessons from a review of 500 social media accounts


Social media. It’s the biggest time-suck there is. So it’s important to make sure that the time invested delivers benefits, outputs and outcomes. How do you know if your organisation is getting the most from it? Well you review your work. In detail.

One of my favourite tasks these past 18 months has been undertaking social media reviews for organisations. It’s a time-consuming but important activity which always reveals fascinating insights as well as highlighting areas for improvement.

I’m just about to undertake my sixteenth social media review and so it seemed a good time to reflect on the things I’ve learned and the key lessons to emerge. Here goes.

1. We’re still too “broadcast”

This is a trend which has jumped out from the 15 reviews I have undertaken so far – there is still too much one-way posting on the things which organisations and services want to share. This isn’t necessarily what followers want to read. Of course organisations want to share their priority work and messages. That makes sense. But there must be a balance and this balance is often out of kilter.

There is an important, deeper observation here though: Most of the broadcasting isn't coming from the main corporate accounts, it's coming largely from accounts which sit outside of the communications teams. Not always, but often. I suspect that many busy and under pressure communications teams are struggling to dedicate enough time to addressing this issue on top of the other demands they’re juggling right now.

2. The holy grail. Generating greater engagement levels

I believe that engagement rates should be a measured and monitored – and a target set for organisational accounts. What does a good engagement rate look like? From the benchmarking I’ve been able to generate I have seen “gold standard” accounts where 30-40% of activity is genuine engagements with citizens and customers.

This chimes with Buffer’s “rule of thirds” – which I love – as a way of setting achievable content targets. If you’re not aware of it, Buffer's rule of thirds suggests that an account should aim for:

  • a third of its content should be your most important messages and priorities
  • a third should be the sharing of other people's content e.g. partners, customers, local groups, charities
  • and the final third should be actual engagement: conversations, listening and responding, asking questions, surveys and polls

Really simple, really effective. Try it.

3. Poorly performing accounts

In 2017, resources – which includes our time – are just too precious to spend on activities and channels which don't provide a positive return. Following an in-depth review it's clear to spot a poor performing account. They generally fall into three broad categories:

Accounts which never had the legs or potential in the first place but were set up by a service area. Now there could have been a decent case for innovating with this account back in the day but if it's not performing now it probably never will without something major happening.

Accounts which were once great and managed by a skilled front line officer but there has since been a change in personnel and the new person in charge either doesn't have the time or doesn't have the inclination. The questions here are simple? Does this account still have potential or not? If so, is there someone with the time and skills to run it? If the answer to both questions is no then close it.

Accounts which were opened because it was the trendy thing to do and a manager somewhere demanded it be opened. I call this “getting distracted by the shiny”. These accounts tend to post infrequently, engage very little and don't add to the organisation’s digital offer. They’re vanity accounts which detract from the genuinely good accounts.

4. Stop flogging a dead horse: close your poor performing accounts

My reviews have on average resulted in the closure of 10-15% of an organisation's accounts.

There’s a kind of “accounts lifecycle curve” I’ve witnessed in many organisations: early adoption through to rapid growth up to saturation point and now a decline in numbers. It means that lots of organisations are now reducing their overall number of accounts.

If you’re going to close an account then obviously it’s best to tell the people involved face-to-face and explain why their account needs to be closed. But also tell them how they can get a better return by working with you on their potentially good content and how it could be shared through the main corporate accounts which has 40k followers or likes.

When an account needs to close it doesn't necessarily mean the person involved has failed. It's been good and important to experiment and innovate with accounts – but 10 years in with social media we largely know what works and what doesn't now.

5. Your inbound social messages and questions – guess what…

On average from my reviews around 50% of the messages being received into organisational social media accounts are actually customer services enquiries. Janelle Barlow once famously said: "A complaint’s a gift". And it kind of is.

But at the risk of stating the obvious, the best people to deal with a customer services enquiry is the customer services team. This has to be addressed – communications teams just don’t have the capacity to do another team’s work too and it isn’t the best way to get accurate and speedy responses to customers. If this is you get a meeting in the diary with your customer services colleagues.

6. What makes the most engaging content? Don’t underestimate the mundane.

Now this is where some good old fashioned desktop research – sleeves rolled up, head down – pays dividends. It’s not enough to simply look at the big numbers where, for example, Facebook might point us towards a trillion video views. Let’s face it, they have told fibs before in this area and when just three seconds counts as a view on Facebook there is good reason to take this number with a grain of salt.

Unless you have access to some fancy, ultra-expensive monitoring aid then a little number-crunching can come in handy here. Is it worth it? Yep, for sure. It turns up surprising things.

For example, when I reviewed the multiple social media accounts of a large city council what do you think was the social post which generated the highest engagement rate across a month? Something sexy, something really fun and creative? No. It was a tweet with a link to a webcam at the council tip on a bank holiday weekend. It generated seven times the average engagement rate for the account. Wow.

Head to part 2 of this piece for six more insights from my social media review.

A version of this piece originally appeared on as “I reviewed 500 social media accounts – want to know what I learned?”

Follow Darren @darrencaveney and @comms2point0

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