How to prepare your team to newsjack effectively

Do you feel like you are missing the boat because you don’t have the confidence to newsjack? Do you even know what newsjack means?

There are some brands out there that are killing it with social media. Their ability to be on time, relevant and kick some serious pop culture butt really helps endear their brand to people.

Let’s face it – we want something a little sassier and edgier than “click my link for this boring press release”.

You’ve got to be able to newsjack effectively online. And have the right tone and voice while you’re doing it to avoid disaster.

Here is a little blog on how you can get your customer service and community manager’s newsjack skills to shine and benefit from it in the process

Have the right people

Good community managers are the people who genuinely love talking to people. They are quick-witted, great at riffing and have their finger on the pulse.

This means you don’t want the person who is speaking like a corporate manual who doesn’t know how to take a risk.

Yes, risk taking is extremely important in social media marketing these days. You have to have the appetite for it (because let’s face it, all social media is a risk). And you have to have community managers who know how to think around corners to solve the problems.

So, what does a good community manager look like?

  • They have a strong background in customer service. They’ve done the hard yards in a call centre, complaints department, hospitality or some kind of customer service operation where dealing with people who are highly emotional is the everyday. I say this as someone who started their career in a call centre for a dating service. Trust me, you don’t know how to problem solve until you’ve had to figure out how to explain to a person who is cranky their date was four dress sizes larger than expected that while you empathise, you can’t refund their entire membership
  • They are OK with saying no. Some of the best customer service people I have ever worked with have come from really unusual backgrounds. A debt collector, a taxi driver, a manager of an adult massage establishment, a pub manager, a drag queen, a comedian, a female bouncer, a loans approval officer – they took to call centre and community management work like ducks to water. Why? Because every single one of these professions is about delivering difficult news to people on occasion. And in a way they won’t lose their bottle, no matter their mood or even level of inebriation. Being able to depersonalise from negative feedback and then de-escalate a situation is invaluable to good community management
  • They read the training manual, but they aren’t wedded to it. You should always look for the person who can respect and understand the baseline. But also work within the rules (and outside of them) to fix a situation they haven’t seen before. Like having to tap two very amorous gay men who met at a singles matching event who didn’t realise they were shagging for all to see in a replica Tardis, for example. Ahem.
  • They have great tone mirroring and conversational timing. Community managers who are writers, comedians, actors and/or have the gift of the customer gab are far better at their job than a person who knows how to schedule content. With someone who can be relatable, conversational and comedic, you have the ability to riff back and forth with the audience. This allows a customer to experience your brand in a fun, interactive way. They’re the person who gives other people the excuse to talk. For example, I invented and hosted Astrology matching on Lavalife for several years. Customers may not care that much about their astrology match. But they do care about someone giving them an ice breaker and an excuse to approach another single person in a light-hearted way
  • They have empathy. It doesn’t matter if the customer is cranky for no apparent reason. Heck, it doesn’t matter if they are pulling one over on you. Or they are being sweet as pie. Your community management needs to be consistent and kind. The reason we go to counselling is so that we can tell things to someone who won’t judge. And who will give us the opportunity to release the pressure within. Great customer service isn’t much different. Half the time, customers figure out where they went wrong talking it through. The other half, they want assurances it won’t happen like that again. If you don’t have people responding with empathy, good luck solving problems. And good luck being able to respond well to opportunities to newsjack, hecklers or marketing disasters.

You want the people who know and respect the rules. But who don’t follow them so closely, they are incapable of coping when the routine walks off the map.

Give them enough rope to newsjack

Now that you have the right people, it’s up to you to give them enough rope to be creative. Honestly, the more restrictive, fear-based and conservative your company is, the less likely you will be able to do anything but fall flat when it comes to newsjacking.

And retain the really awesome customer service and social media people, to be honest.

Let them spread their wings. Heck, let them make mistakes and dig themselves out on occasion, too.

And do it in such a way that helps, not hinders the process.

For example, a responsive customer service team:

  • Operates from a focus on values and goals. You build people who care about the business, what each interaction means and what it leads to. You don’t script them within an inch of their life
  • Have autonomy over their destiny. There’s teaching good customer service and upselling skills. And then there’s making it impossible for people to do their job. Don’t be so insistent on uniformity that you prohibit your staff from turning objectors around or saving themselves from abuse
  • Knows their employer has their back. This whole “the junior did it and then we got rid of them” is not a sign of a company proactively dealing with a social media disaster or an issue in customer service. It’s the sign of a gutless company that doesn’t support it’s most to least experienced workers. Do the work with the people you’ve got!
  • Cares because the company cares. We need to move away from assuming everyone will be loyal just because they get paid and the company has office yoga and a smoothie machine. It’s a lot harder to suck at your job when you feel the pressure of a place’s belief in you as a person weighing heavily on your shoulders.

Build the trust first

Before you get your customer service or community management teams out in the wild, riffing and grinning, you have to train them. You have to spend time letting them experience the service they sell. They need to soak in the culture and the brand personality.

And they have to feel welcome and wanted.

How do you build a solid foundation for community managers and customer service alike?

Train new staff

Training your staff in what you expect online is important. Not just poke a folder at them and ask them to read all the green dot tabs. Not just listening for a day and then – blammo- here at the keys to the kingdom. Get them role playing. If you have an online community, let them play on it. Encourage them to read your guidelines and spot where they may not be adhered to in other people’s work to discuss. And don’t use it as a chance to shame the person who missed the 540th comment in a nine hundred long comment thread. Encourage both to understand it and work on it together

Have an intranet

And update it!

I cannot tell you how many agencies I have worked in that have apparent repositories of wisdom that are not being used. Usually, it’s because the material is out of date, riddled with broken links, or the structure only makes sense to the person who left three years ago. Your training materials are the standard you set. If you want a new person to feel unsupported and feel like there’s nowhere to go for help, skip the intranet or turn it into a crap shack.

Make sure it functions properly.

Integrate their experiences into the training

The theory of how customers respond to situations can be vastly different to what actually goes on. This is why so many focus groups or script writers without knowledge of a company miss the mark completely. You’ve got to comb through the content of your customer service calls, membership notes, data on your customers, performance reviews and ask your frontline staff. They know better than anyone else where the real problems and what the actual frequently asked questions are. Besides, engaging that knowledge and using it well empowers the person in front of you. I know because that was me when I transitioned from call centre to product design.

Allow them to fail

To newsjack is to take risks. And to take risks is to fail on occasion. It’s part of the process.

You don’t get people who are accustomed to dealing with high pressure situations through demanding perfectionism. In my experience, perfectionists lack the stomach for what might come next if they miss the target. What you want is your scrappers who can deal with the situation and feel safe, even if the terrain is tough to navigate.

Once you’ve created a well-versed, well-supported and autonomous customer service and community management team, you can then send them out to respond to prevailing conditions.


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