6 Tips For Engaging Online

Online outreachIf you’re new to the social media "scene," it can be scary (just ask the folks at Motrin). For a company used to "controlling the message" through carefully crafted news releases and press conferences, engaging in it can be even scarier.

Here are six tips to help that engagement go a little more smoothly:

Disclose who you are

If you’re engaging on behalf of your employer, be up-front with that fact. That can be in your comment, in your bio (if it’s visible), in your username; whatever. Just make sure it’s clear.

I suggest this from an ethical perspective (and yes, Keith, also because of the potential backlash) – I think pretending to be something you’re not is a bad idea.

Choose your words carefully

You can make your life considerably easier by researching the questions that people are likely to have  and the issues they’re likely to raise (ask the support/customer service team!) and proposing some very rough "messages" that you can use in those cases.

I’m not talking about "messages" in the old-school communications sense. Don’t regurgitate the same thing each time someone asks a certain question. Your pre-approved set of generic points gives you a base to riff-off and helps you to avoid upsetting your boss, while still allowing you the freedom to speak directly to the other person rather than in their general direction.

Avoid bureaubabble

This relates to the "messages" I mentioned above.

Don’t become a mindless message machine.

If someone’s post just calls for a quick "thank you" then just say that! Don’t be a machine – speak like a person, because that’s what you are and that’s the expectation in these forums. While remembering that you do represent a company, be as conversational as you can.

Avoid corporate speak" wherever possible.


You’re unlikely to have the authority to make decisions for your company. If you’re not sure about something then ask.

Set parameters

Sometimes your overlords will be comfortable in trusting you to just go out and engage on the company’s behalf. If so, fantastic.

Other times, management may want a little more input into what you say.

In that cases, I have two recommendations:

  • Start to gently educate people about the nature of social media, the cultural changes they may need and the increased effectiveness that results from empowering you to engage on your own;
  • Set some parameters for your engagement.

What parameters? For starters:

  • What you’ll do
  • The options you may recommend (consider triaging posts)
  • The timelines in which your boss needs to respond (you might have better luck in not getting fired if you position this as a way to increase effectiveness rather than just setting deadlines for your boss)

Establish an engagement policy

Set an engagement policy. Lay out, in clear terms, where you’ll engage with people but more importantly, where you won’t. For example, you may want to avoid conversations involving personal attacks, offensive language or obvious trolls. State that up-front (perhaps in the ‘policies’ section of your website) so you can point to it when people ask why you didn’t engage in a particular discussion.

What other recommendations would you add for companies getting ready to engage online?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.