Social media is the top channel in external communications, Ragan survey reveals

Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents tout social media as the most important external channel, while press releases win the loyalty of 54%. Here’s a look at how you should be using social media in these uncertain times.

Social media is top external channel

What is your organization trying to accomplish on social media in a time of COVID-19, civic unrest and other crises?

For Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, it’s simple. Show he’s a real person, and he’s there to help, says Micah Laney, the retail giant’s senior manager for social media strategy.

McMillon and Walmart have been engaging with an online community for years, allowing it to adjust quickly to pandemic-related crisis communications. The company also learned crisis social media lessons after a gunman killed 23 people in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, last summer.

“With the COVID-19 situation, we’re taking those particular lessons and applying them every day,” Laney says.

Not every organization is so assured, a Ragan Communications survey revealed. Many communicators are frustrated, from proving return social media’s investment to getting executive buy-in, according Ragan’s State of Communications 2020 survey of nearly 800 professionals. For example, getting executives to use social media remains a significant challenge for 27% of communicators.

Yet with challenges come opportunities. Social media has sprinted past press releases to become the top channel in external communications, the survey reveals. Seventy-eight percent of the total tout social media as the most important channel, while press releases win the loyalty of 54%. (The survey’s 800 participants, drawn from across Ragan Communications’ readership, could select more than one channel. This survey was taken pre-COVID-19.)

Asked, “What are your biggest obstacles to more effective leadership communications?” more than a quarter of Ragan survey participants cite leaders’ reluctance to use social media, echoing many communicators’ comments that their bosses don’t see the point in it. A third of respondents also note the closed doors in the corner offices, checking the box “access to the executives.”

How to change their minds about the value of social media—and of your strategic counsel? Fit it within their own strategic purpose.

“Why are you on social media,” Laney says. “What’s your purpose? What do you want to accomplish?”

McMillon’s social media accounts seek to provide full access to where he is and what he’s doing, as well as providing accurate information. During crises, that means answering questions such as, “What are you doing to keep associates safe?”

In a post on several platforms, he thanked employees and reported on changes in the attendance policy, post-COVID-19. Among other points, he said the company will provide two weeks’ pay for those whose work location is part of a mandated quarantine.

Posts can be as simple as noting that McMillon visited stores in the Tulsa area. He also sought to reassure people who didn’t want to return to work amid the coronavirus outbreak, telling them as the CEO, he had their back.

Given that there are more than 2 million Walmart associates, it’s easy for employees to see themselves as a number, Laney says. “Having the CEO speak to your specific fears and let people know that you as an individual matter is very important,” he adds.

Furthermore, don’t bombard leaders with metrics about impressions and retweets. Rather, present valuable information they are looking for.

When consultant Scott Monty headed social media at Ford Motor Co., he was once called on to make a presentation to skeptical senior executives. At the time, fuel economy and rising gas prices were on every automobile industry leader’s mind, says Monty, who heads Scott Monty Strategies.

He began the meeting by saying, “Let’s go on to the corporate Twitter account and ask people what’s the ideal miles per gallon—MPG—they would like to see out of their next vehicle?”

Later in his presentation, he circled back to check out the Twitter responses. Hundreds of people offered everything from, “It doesn’t matter what the MPG is as long as it’s got a V-8 engine,” all the way up to “300 miles per gallon!” But most of the responses were in the 30s and 40s.

“The CFO right next to me pushed back from the table, took his glasses off his face, put them on top of his head,” Monty says. “And he turned to me and he said, ‘Do you know, if I had insights like this every day, I would find it invaluable.’”

Learn more about social media June 18-19 at our upcoming Social Media & Digital Communications Conference.

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