Published: 12 May 2014

Managing out-of-hours social media

The problem with social media is it works anti-social hours – Twitter storms don’t stick politely to 9am-5.30pm with a break for lunch.

However, as CRUK and other cancer charities discovered when the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon exploded every social channel going, it can really pay to be alert to breaking events – raising £8m from a campaign they didn’t actually start, but helped accelerate.

With users creating their own charity campaigns, everyone’s a winner when it comes to making sure out-of-hours social media is covered by charity communicators. Except, perhaps, the charity communicators themselves – who might be expected to have smartphones strapped to their eyes 24/7. A recent study showed that 62% of people working in social media find managing out of hours’ engagement an issue. The more that engaged supporters drive popular social actions to their own schedule, the more this could be an issue for us all.

At Mind, the mental health charity, we’re proud of our record in digital engagement – we were the highest-rated health care charity in Third Sector Research’s Online Index in 2013. We make every effort to answer direct calls for help from people on social. So here, in the finest digital marketing tradition, is a list of six tips for managing out-of-hours social media:

1. Post for a reason

If you’re going to engage with users out-of-hours, have a good action for users to take part in, or clear outcomes for your organisation – don’t ruin your evening for nothing. For example, tweeting during a relevant TV programme can help bring your charity’s work to greater attention – you might even get a few donations. But there are other occasions where it might not be worth the effort – there’s possibly little use in posting about your involvement with an event if everyone there already knows and nobody else cares. If in doubt use your social stats and research (Topsy is a great tool) to help you figure out the potential benefit.

2. Keep an eye on staff wellbeing

Mind engages with people with mental health problems online, but even if your charity doesn’t regularly communicate with vulnerable people it can be a very demanding process to deal with queries, complaints, misunderstandings and trying to scale complex issues into 140 characters. As well as ensuring managers are aware of the stress that can occur, we have a shared calendar on Outlook to organise the rotation of who is doing what and when, and an escalation process (including access to out-of-hours media personnel) for when something gets a bit too demanding.

3. In an emergency, act quickly but avoid risk

Ideally an escalation process will help you if something unexpected and urgent comes up, but what if for some reason you’re totally on your own when a massive issue descends from nowhere? Some things to bear in mind:

  • Take great care to avoid starting a fight – even if it’s justified.
  • Use polite questions if you really need to challenge something, not direct accusations.
  • Don’t accept things as facts even if thousands of people on social media say they are – the Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ (‘take nobody’s word for it’) is a good one to remember.
  • If you really can’t reach any colleagues, try to find someone you know to talk to – avoid trying to manage it completely on your own.
  • If it’s a ‘fun emergency’ like the #nomakeupselfie, remember to treat social media as being like a great big party but with your boss in one corner of the room and your mum in the other – and don’t get carried away by saying anything you wouldn’t want either of them overhearing.

4. Manage expectations

Another good tip in times of emergency is ‘be a human being’ – you’re allowed to say ‘I’m going to have to check’ if you don’t know something (in a marketing buzzword that might make you feel a bit ill, it’s apparently called being flawsome). Managing expectations at all times is important, for example, in being clear if and when you’re not going to be able to interact by clearly ‘signing out’ of a discussion or using a page like this from Mind’s website. Also, at Mind we often use our first names when replying to individuals, just so people know we’re real people and not some sort of corporate superhuman who ‘surely must know everything, right now’.

5. Use scheduling wisely

We use Hootsuite to manage the main flow of social media, and the temptation to use its scheduled post function for all sorts of events can be strong. Why stay up late if you can just schedule ‘What do you think of it so far?’ to pop up during a TV broadcast? However, as the National Rifle Association showed in the USA, scheduling can go spectacularly wrong. And while that might seem an extreme example in our less gun-happy society, I bet we can more readily imagine the situation of scheduling a supportive message in advance for the runners in this half-marathon that got cancelled at the last minute. Annoyingly, most social media activity needs real attention!

6. Do not feed the troll

Never feed the troll. Really. In fact the only time you can permissibly feed the troll is…never feed the troll. If someone seems to be arguing for the sake of it, be as polite as possible and address any points of substance which could be legitimate, such as a specific complaint with clear finality. Don’t get drawn into an endless debate and be serenely content to leave your last, polite and conclusive reply as the final one, no matter how many times your troll tries to prod you into further interaction.


Chris Cox, senior communications & marketing manager, freelance

Chris has been an influential public and third sector communications professional for over ten years, overseeing the fast-growing digital and social media marcomms around mental health at Mind, Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness. He's also led digital comms and marketing at Tommy's and NSPCC – and undertaken senior roles managing wider comms including media and PR in the private sector. Chris is a proud trustee of The Choir With No Name, which run choirs for people who've experienced homelessness and others on the margins.