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Working in social media, I rarely have to send emergency all-company emails. But last Tuesday, I had to make an exception.  

“I’ve been informed that the official UN theme for International Women’s Day is not Inspire Inclusion as I had originally believed, but Invest in Women,” I wrote, “In light of this, we are going to adjust our approach for LinkedIn.” 

We’d been hood-winked – and we were far from alone.  

This year as International Women’s Day approached, we had the typical thought of ‘What are we going to do on social?’ A couple weeks before the day, I checked the International Women’s Day website, saw the theme of #InspireInclusion and sent out an email asking for colleagues to send me pictures of themselves making the heart pose and office leads to tell me what they were doing in their offices to inspire inclusion.  

Photos started to trickle in – all was going well. Then, on Monday a colleague shared a LinkedIn post that was gaining traction. It turns out that the ‘official’ theme for the day wasn’t official after all. The UN theme of ‘Invest in Women’ had been subsumed by the more aggressively promoted #InspireInclusion and many companies, including us, had taken it for granted. 

There were only a few days to go and people were still sending me photos, so if we were going to change tack, we had to do it quickly. I emailed the company admitting the mistake and letting them know we’d be changing our approach. We ended up not posting anything at all on International Women’s Day. One of our upcoming posts will reflect back on the client events we held to recognize the day.  

Navigating LinkedIn on International Women’s Day can feel increasingly like a minefield – this year, there were posts from women speaking about people who helped them mixed with arguments against the holiday. “Where is everyone the other 364 days of the year?” more than one person argued. “Boycott the ‘Women in…’ breakfasts, please!” said Liz Lumley of The Banker.  

And in the middle of it were plenty of organizations telling people to #inspireinclusion and a good number of photos with hearts. I don’t blame anyone who did this – it’s an innocent mistake and certainly there’s no harm in telling people to be more inclusive.  

But the whole affair has gotten me thinking about larger lessons for social media leaders.  

Social isn’t divorced from everything else going on – in fact, what you see on the outside should flow from what you get on the inside. That is to say, social content should be an extension of your values and unique expertise. Especially when it comes to an awareness day, the opportunity to communicate with authenticity is significant – externally but perhaps just as importantly, internally. The very best content for IWD reflects themes and topics that play out throughout the year, and therefore are unique to the organization. Jumping on an awareness bandwagon just for the sake of social is arguably meaningless if it’s not backed up by internal action, and that just won’t cut it with employees. 

I’m a planner to my core and I’m all about content calendars – they help ensure the consistency of stories, topics and themes, they enable teams to manage workloads appropriately, and they allow for approvals and sign-off where it’s needed. But ever since I’ve been working in social (and part of the reason behind my oft-repeated mantra that good social media takes time and resource), I’ve recognized it was a job with multiple moving parts and changes every day. However much you plan ahead, you will always need to stay flexible, reacting with speed and changing things around at the last minute. 

Any kind of leadership position is intensely personal. It can be easy to not give social much thought when it’s all going right but as the external voice of the company, we have a lot of visibility and responsibility and when we get it wrong, you can be sure we hear about it. It’s important to me to do a good job, and so I felt a degree of shame having to send the email out that admitted we’d got the theme wrong – I hold myself, my team and anyone else who comes to us wanting to post on social, to high standards. 

The kerfuffle with International Women’s Day served to reinforce my convictions, that social media isn’t a job to be taken lightly. In the words of a Sprout Social blog from a year or so ago that has stuck with me: “The ‘intern runs the brand account’ stereotype is finally beginning to break down’. This experience shows that social takes both strategic thinking and a high degree of daily management – shout out to the social media managers doing a stellar job.  

Hannah Porritt is an account director in New York focused on digital and social