Taking risks is generally not advised when building a strong communications and public relations strategy. When crafting an ad campaign, promoting an event, or responding to a crisis, companies and non-profits will usually take the “vanilla” path and craft something “safe.” Overall, this is a good practice, and in no way am I advocating against that in this blog. Generally speaking, a moderate, “middle of the road” communications strategy is both appropriate and effective.

With that said, the world of social media is a bit different.

When I go on the road to consult with organizations about their social media strategies, the comment that often draws the most attention is about this very subject. I tell every organization with whom I consult: “you can’t be afraid of taking risks on social media.”

A great example of social media personality: The New York Yankees are unafraid to post GIFs, relevant hashtags, and to use emojis. The account also makes a habit of tweeting at other people, other baseball teams, and highlighting the players on the team who tweet.

What I mean by that is: you can’t be afraid to “let your hair down.” In this digital world, where millennials, Gen Xers, and generations beyond live their lives in a very public and vulnerable way, they expect organizations to do that too. Just as they are inclined not to trust someone who does not communicate in this way, they do not trust an organization that does not allow themselves to be vulnerable, or have fun.

More often than not, I’ll find someone who doesn’t want to publish a video series because they are camera shy, an organization that doesn’t allow Snapchat because you can’t control what people send back (or if they even send you something back), or someone who scripts every single tweet, comment, and Facebook post two or three times over. That is not an effective or sustainable social media strategy. These appraoches will cripple your digital strategy, and, with the pace of the current digital media landscape, you will be left behind.

Say you have an event you are promoting. You can’t just post your press release, slap a picture on it, and call it a day. Nobody is going to interact with that, and worse, nobody is going to share that. Instead, you need to have a personality, using emotions and lighter language to sell your event to those viewing it. You can’t be guarded and succeed on social media. You have to be able to be silly.

Though I often find that there is trepidation at the idea of “looking silly,” informality on social media at is a risk that people can usually overcome, especially when they see positive results. Since social media is the front line of most organizations’ communications, there can often be a very real fear that you are going to say something wrong and spark a crisis. In order to use this medium effectively, you cannot let that fear cripple your content. You must trust yourself, your judgement, and your abilities and be unafraid to take (calculated) risks. You’ll be better for it if you do.

The other risk that organizations struggle with on social media is responding to those who engage them, particularly negative content. Responding to negative content is a separate blog post entirely, so for now, let’s talk about responding to people in general.

In short, you HAVE to do this. Social media is NOT a podium in the way that more traditional media outlets are. Social media is a forum. Engaging other people in a public way, responding to their concerns, and highlighting their stories is one of the MOST effective ways to engage young followers. Of course, this can be risky. What if you say the wrong thing? What if you create conflict? Is responding to someone’s personal account an endorsement of what they put on it? Or is it creepy?

All valid questions, but still, that can’t stop you from engaging your consumers.

A great example of consumer engagement on social media is Wendy’s, the fast food chain. They are unafraid to respond to negative feedback, highlight stories of their product bringing joy to people, and to respond in funny ways. They often call out their competitors, throw “shade” at other accounts, and generally have a good time on social media. They have had monumental social media success in the past 6 months (reaching nearly 2 million followers) because of this approach.

Wendy’s responded to praise with a funny and informal message, doing so promptly.

The moral of the story here is not to go out there and inflame your user base. Rather, it is to go out there, “let your hair down,” and allow your organization to appear vulnerable. If I can sum it all up in one phrase: Be yourself! Consumers of all ages are craving authenticity these days, so give it to them! Social media is not the place to hide behind the veneer of public relations formality.

Talk to your followers like you would talk to guests at a party, or your family and you’re on the right track!