Social media doesn't go on vacation.
That sentence might be the most common warning from social media professionals when considering the challenges of running social media during the holidays.
Sometimes that means thanking your lucky stars IHOP has free Wi-Fi, as Atlanta-based communications consultant Alicia Mitchell did, while on a drive from Atlanta to Oklahoma City with her family over Thanksgiving.
"I got my laptop out of the car, came back inside and did some scheduling while my family was still eating," she said.
The holidays can be a tricky time for social media marketers. On one hand, the year is winding down and people are checking out physically and mentally. On the other, it can be one of the busiest times, especially if your brand has a product to promote.
"I know that people want to take this time off and want to enjoy the holidays, but unfortunately, social media and digital media is a 24/7 gig and it really doesn't lend itself to a week out of the office or even two days out of the office," said Gartner analyst Jennifer Polk.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to make sure the holidays run smoothly, even if unplugging isn't an option — which it probably isn't. Our condolences.
These five tips can help.
1. Don't just set it and forget it
"Most social media managers realize that being available on nights, weekends, and holidays comes with the territory. There are simply jobs in the world that require this," said Emily Harris, content marketing manager at Rockhouse Partners.
The upside, though, is that you don't have to be tied to your desk, she said.
That means you've at least got some convenience on your side because you cannot walk away from social. Social media professionals still have to check in and make sure everything is running smoothly, even if the temptation not to is strong.
"Make sure the post went out, the links worked, that the pictures are right, and that no one is taking your message the wrong way. It's not a huge commitment to sneak glances at your phone every once in awhile, and if worse comes to worse, you'll be glad you did," Harris said.
It might not even be enough to check in once a day. News breaks so quickly, the media landscape from one hour to the next could render your scheduled tweets or posts at best, irrelevant, and at worst, offensive, Polk said.
Harris also advised using a tool with notifications for cases where there's a sudden uptick in social activity, for example. "You could either miss out on huge opportunities or let a mess get a lot worse on social if no one's home," she said.
2. Have a staffing plan, get protocol in place
Content-wise, plan as much as you can (while still being mindful that you may need to readjust on the fly).
Also plan for staffing.
One of the best things about vacations is they fight burn out. If possible, don't leave social all to one person. Split up responsibilities so everyone feels like they're getting a little time off.
"You may be the only person in the office. The people that you normally go to for answers may be out on vacation. The second and third point of contact may be hard to get a hold of," she said.
If your brand will be divvying up responsibilities for social, that may mean bringing in other team members from inside or outside marketing to assist. Running and monitoring social may not be what they typically do. Make sure you have the resources to hand off to them outlining not only content strategy, but what to do if something goes wrong, and who to call, or even what to do if one of the brand's influencers tweets them on Christmas Eve. (Hint: answer them.)
This is also true for brands working with agencies. Even the best agencies, Polk said, will want some guidance and feedback before making an unplanned move.
3. Don't neglect service
For many brands, the holidays mean sales. Though, Polk said, it's important to remember the holidays are also a prime time for customer service.
"You're going to see a ramp up in terms of the numbers of customers that are coming into your store and coming on to your site," Polk said, "Any time you see an influx of more customers, naturally you see an influx of more issues and those issues are going to land on your Facebook page, they're going to land on Twitter, they're going to land wherever people think they can get some type of resolution."
Make sure you're monitoring and responding appropriately.
4. Keep your cheer in check
While it's fine to be festive, make sure your social media presence isn't drenched in peppermint and garland through December.
"The holiday spirit is infectious, but that doesn't mean that it makes sense for every brand on every channel. Dramatic changes in brand voice for the sake of seasonal cheer, is more confusing than effective," said Anna Julow Roolf, director of social media accounts for BLASTmedia.
This is another good opportunity to question whether what you're doing on social is helping you meet your business objectives. If not, rethink it, and be judicious about the Santa jokes.
5. Don't assume everyone's offline
Really, what this boils down to is maintaining your brand's consistency.
It's appealing to think that no one is on social media because they're with family and friends but, according to Esker Customer Programs and Media Relations Coordinator, Kayln Lewis, social media tends to spike when people are out of the office.
"The spikes would occur when you would expect them to — in the mornings when users are enjoying the news or a cup of coffee and in the evenings as they are watching the 4th re-run of 'A Christmas Story' and winding down for bed," she said. If anything, it's a good time to figure out when followers are online, and strategize around those times.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.