How to Design a Triage System for Social Media

Swift, knowledgeable social media actions could mean the difference between a long brand life or a slow brand death.

Triage is a system for allocating scarce resources to where they’ll have the most impact. It was invented by doctors in World War I who had to quickly evaluate and classify wounded soldiers so that they could direct their time and attention to those for whom immediate care might actually make a difference. Communications today can feel a bit like those frontline medical stations. Every day we face floods of information from multiple channels, tons of demands on our time and the ever-present question, “When are we going to launch our Facebook page?”

At PR News February 2012 Digital PR Summit in San Francisco, so many people said they were wrestling with this challenge that it got me thinking: Would it be possible to design a triage system for social media—a way to help us decide where best to allocate our scarce time and resources among the many options out there? The social media world is evolving quickly, and people are endlessly inventive in how they use these platforms. For example, I’ve always thought of Pinterest as primarily of value to companies with visual products (art, design, beauty) trying to reach women, but recently I learned that in the U.K., Pinterest skews male.

But even in a fast-changing world where every company and situation is unique, it’s possible to come up with some common-sense social media time and resource guidelines. So here is a triage guide for three key stakeholder groups.


Journalists don’t have much time to read other people’s articles, so your brilliant CEO blog will be lost on them. Launch a Twitter handle; make it focused and newsworthy.


â–¶ Prospective: Bulk up your LinkedIn page for recruiting; if you have more time, consider Facebook or Twitter. Facebook provides a venue for showcasing a culture, while Twitter is ideal for a quick call to action (“Hiring civil engineers w 3-5 yrs exp, DM me @...”).

â–¶ Current: Focus on Facebook for culture and engagement. Caveat: If you’re planning a reduction in workforce or other action that employees will perceive as negative, you’re better off focusing on LinkedIn or a company blog rather than inviting open exchange on Facebook.


â–¶ In the U.S.: Move on to the questions.

â–¶ Elsewhere: These days, you can go pretty far with Facebook and Twitter, but you might also want to consider others such as Orkut for Brazil, Hi5 for Mexico, Maktoob in the Middle East and Mixi in Japan.

Question: Who are your customers and where are they going online?

Different sites skew differently. According to the Ignite Social Media Blog, as of January 2012, Pinterest’s users were 80% female; of these, 25% had earned a BA or higher and the majority had a household income of $25K-75K. According to the Pew Research Center, the black-white gap in Twitter use increased by 16 percentage points between November 2010 and May 2011, with 25% of online African Americans using Twitter, compared with 9% of online whites. And as the last statistic shows, things can change quickly. So before you spend valuable time and resources, make sure you’re clear not only on who you want to reach but on where they’re going today.

Question: What are your customers doing when they get there?

Picture yourself at a cocktail party. You’re standing there with three friends talking about someone’s new baby and someone jumps in with “How ’bout those Giants?” It’s not a bad topic; it’s just…off topic. Engaging on social media sites is similar: Just because a certain group of people spends time on a particular channel doesn’t mean they want to meet you there, and while it’s not impossible to start a conversation, it’s smoother to enter into one that’s already happening.


So before you assume that Facebook is the best site to host a financial education program for women in their thirties, research whether any of those women are talking about finances on Facebook. If not, see if another channel could be a better match for the information, or get ready for a challenge.

Of course, we’d all love to be able to do everything, but most of us have to make choices. So think strategically, choose your top channel and dive in. PRN


This article was written by Beth Haiken, senior VP at Ogivly PR in San Francisco. She can be reached at