Let’s Talk About What Doesn’t Get Posted

Featuring an interview with Jenny Li Fowler, Director of Social Media Strategy at MIT.

There are a lot of reasons a social post doesn’t go live. Maybe there’s something happening in the news that requires everything be paused. Your boss suggests an idea and you push back. You get an asset that just doesn’t feel like it belongs on that specific platform. Management wanting to enter an online conversation that your brand has no right being in. Simply a feeling in your gut that the post isn’t right. Whatever the reason, the person who is likely stopping these posts (and the subsequent PR nightmares) is the brand’s social lead.

When I saw this tweet from Jenny Li Fowler, I was reminded of how important the posts that *don’t* go live are. Social media professionals are praised when posts go Good Viral, but there is little recognition for catching a post before it goes Bad Viral. In fact, when I have pushed back on posts before they go live (too many times to count!) I have often been met with resistance or a general feeling that I am sensitive or a naysayer. It’s not fun to kill a post—but sometimes it’s necessary. I asked some Link in Bio readers about times they’ve had to do this, and here is what they said:

“In January, the CEO wanted to post something about honoring National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. I did my best to explain how it was reckless and uninformed but also irrelevant to our business as a whole. Ultimately, however, I just had to ‘forget’ to write the copy and schedule.”

“A post about Juneteenth created by a team of non-Black creators/marketers that was tone deaf, cringey, and flat out wrong!”

“We were about to post a little spotlight on a chef that was just accused of sexual assault the day before.”

“Boss: AAPI month is *next* week. What are we posting?

Me: Well, we haven’t developed a single organic relationship with someone from the AAPI community. We don’t feature anyone from the AAPI community in our materials. So, yeah, nothing. I’m not using our socials to capitalize on AAPI faces.”

“As we were about to have a post go live, news of the Capitol siege was released and we had to make a quick-fire decision to stop from posting for sensitivity's sake.”

“During the BLM protests in summer 2020, I was working for a nonprofit and my boss wanted to post a black square to our feed. As a woman of color, it was difficult having a conversation with my white manager about why posting a square could be performative and harmful, especially from an organization that I didn’t feel could back up our dedication to racial equity. Despite the challenges, I’m grateful my boss heard me and listened to me although I think we still disagreed about where our organization landed on racial equity.”

“‘We need to post about Veterans Day because maybe someone who follows us on Instagram is a veteran and will notice if we don’t post something about veterans and then not buy our very expensive software.’ *Someone drums up a cheesy Veterans Day post using a canned photo.* ‘Oh no, we are not posting that.’”

“The business wanted to delve into social/political issues that, well, weren’t any of their business and had no place being there. We’re a big box retailer and the majority of our products are imported with little or no concern over fair work practices, sustainable packaging, or leaving the planet in a better way than we found it. Trying to come across as ‘environmentally and socially conscious’ didn’t sit right with me and I knew it wouldn’t sit right with the people viewing our content. Stop with the corporate #greenwashing.”

“While I’ve never had to stop a post from going live, I do have to (often) explain to my boss why we can’t just post anything he deems worthy. Like his burrito from lunch…”

Clearly this is a common theme among social media professionals—so I talked to Jenny Li Fowler, author of the above tweet, about the topic. 

Rachel Karten: Can you tell me a little about the social role you're in now and any previous roles (within social or not!) you've had?

Jenny Li Fowler: I’m currently the Director of Social Media Strategy at MIT. I am in charge of developing and executing Institute-wide social media initiatives and campaigns; provide social media consultation and direction for more than 200 departments, labs, and centers; and manage the Institute’s main Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. I also lead the Social Media Working Group which has 190 members. 

Prior to MIT I was the Web Editor and Social Media Manager at Harvard Kennedy School. My work was divided into editorial content for the website and social media. Before that I had an entire career as a TV news reporter. Lol. That was a long time ago.

RK: What inspired your tweet about what doesn't get posted? Was there a particular situation? Or just a recurring theme you wanted to address?

JLF: It was just a thought I had. A lot of my Tweets are thoughts I have at some point about my job, doing social media, being a professional, being a mom … I had the thought about how preventing content from reaching our timelines was just as important as posting content in my job. It happens regularly and yet people aren’t really talking about that aspect of our daily responsibilities so I decided to Tweet it.

RK: I think this often stems from higher ups who don't have social media literacy inserting themselves with an idea. Any suggestions for people who manage or work with social teams to be more aware of or careful with the types of ideas they suggest?

JLF: It’s that and it’s also not understanding the audiences. I think you said it, it’s important to have some familiarity with the platforms that you’re pitching content for, and how users like to use the platforms. It’s also good to know the audiences the channels are serving, if the channels are not reaching your intended audiences then what’s the point?

RK: On the flip side, do you have any advice or tips for social professionals who are having to defend their perspective or push back on ideas of people who are in higher positions? I know in the past when this has happened to me, my initial reaction is to simply say "This is a bad idea" but instead I usually spend hours carefully crafting why it's a bad idea, workarounds, and alternative plans.

JLF: I hear you on this, we’ve all been there. This is where I think it’s important to invest time building relationships. I recommend sharing “good news” when you can, even when they’re not asking for it. For example, say someone gives you a content suggestion in passing and you decide to follow through with it. Be sure to circle back with that person and say they inspired you, what you ended up posting, and that the post ended up with X likes and XX Retweets. The engagement numbers may not be large but that doesn’t matter — what matters is the person gets a better sense of the type of content you’re looking for and they feel good about giving you an idea that actually got engagements. Once they’ve heard a “yes” from you a “no” might be easier to take.

I feel like people in leadership positions are always interested in what peer institutions are doing. So you can use social examples from the accounts of the organizations a specific higher up is most obsessed with and show them data from the good examples and bad examples.

As much as you can, don’t make it sound like your opinion. Your recommendation is based on data, industry standards, and experience. Lead with the data.

RK: When I asked Link in Bio readers about this topic, a lot of the responses talked about brands wanting to involve themselves in online conversations surrounding social or political issues and it not feeling genuine. I think, especially in the past few years, it's often the social manager who is holding the company accountable and keeping them honest. Is this a theme you've noticed as well?

JLF: Oh goodness yes. I’ve started saying that people will not talk about you on social media unless you give them something to talk about. When you start veering outside your lane, when you enter conversations that do not align with your organization’s culture and mission—you’re giving them something to talk about. Going viral is not always a good thing—you can go viral in a bad way.

RK: Final thoughts on this topic?

JLF: I think it’s great you’re writing an article on this topic. Like I said earlier, it occurred to me that preventing content from hitting our timelines was an integral part of a social media manager’s job yet we weren’t really talking about it. I think some of my biggest wins go unseen, and that’s a good thing.


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