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Five Reasons to Consider Social Media in Your M&A Planning

Companies that grow by merger or acquisition often have long and elaborate processes for executing those deals. And almost all of them neglect to include social media either entirely or until way too late in the process. Unsurprisingly, I believe this is a critical mistake. Here’s why:

  1. Reputational risk: It’s ideal to loop your social team in before the deal closes, and they can actually help in the M&A process if you do so. Ask your social team to review the other company’s social media accounts and the chatter online about that company. This exercise can unearth reputational risks and highlight any ongoing issues consumers have with the company before you close the deal. Lest you think this is a fruitless exercise, I have seen deals where this analysis surfaced things concerning enough to actually stop the deal from proceeding, so they are well worth the effort.

  2. Legal risk: Many people involved in the M&A process don’t realize that the acquiring company is legally responsible for everything that goes out on all social media channels starting on legal day one (the first day of the deal being final). That means the time to loop in the social media team is NOT on the day before day one. It’s really unfair to them to tell them that they are suddenly responsible for X number of new channels starting tomorrow, and it honestly opens the company up to all kinds of legal risks until they can coordinate with the social team at the other company and get everything under control.

  3. Compliance risk: If your company is in a regulated industry like financial or pharma, your social media team is already well aware of the rules and regulations regarding what they say on social media. Very often there are requirements about archiving activity and auditing activity on a regular basis. You must make sure that you are following the same protocols for the acquired company starting on day one of the deal being official.

  4. Communication: Imagine you are the head of social media for your company. And your boss calls you into a meeting and says, “We are announcing we are closing a deal to buy company X tomorrow at 8 a.m.” With no heads up and no idea who manages social for the other company, it’s awfully hard for your social media team to coordinate messaging across all channels, get on the same page with the other team so the two companies are saying the same thing online or handle inquiries and media requests that come in via social after the announcement goes live.

  5. Lead time: Without getting up on my soapbox about how most communications professionals know exactly 1 percent of what it takes to run social for a major corporation, I will just say that your social media team does a whole lot more than “post stuff on social media.” As such, merging two completely independent social media operations can take months and is a very large amount of work. Your social media team needs lead time to do this work, and ideally, they should be allowed the courtesy of doing as much of that legwork in advance of the deal closing. By hitting the ground ready to go when the deal closes, they can do everything they can to reduce that legal risk I mentioned above.

If you are scratching your head about what exactly could be so complicated, here’s a list of things your social media team needs to consider and manage as part of a merger:

  • People: Your team will need to understand “who does social” for the company and what each individual is responsible for. There will likely be redundant roles and responsibilities across the two teams, so there may be discussions, personnel decisions and other conversations to be had regarding people across the combined team.

  • Channels: Your team will be acquiring the other company’s social media channels, so they will need to start by obtaining a full inventory of the other company’s channels and the individuals responsible for each one. Depending on the company and the scale of their social operation, this may take some time to compile. And once you have a complete inventory, you may find there are redundant channels or there are channels that no longer make sense, in which case they will need to create a transition plan.

  • Ad accounts: Likewise, they will need to gather a list of all the social media advertising accounts being used by the company and the individuals responsible for each one.

  • Agency partners: Most large companies have at least one agency partner working on social, and big companies may have dozens. Obtaining a list of agency partners and connecting with those teams is equally important.

  • Tools: Most large social media operations use a suite of tools, so there needs to be a tool inventory, discussions about when contracts end and decisions made about consolidating tool stacks, ending contracts, migrating users, training, etc.

  • Governance: Most companies have their own rules and guidelines regarding the governing of social media. Those will need to be assessed merged, or the acquired company’s team and agencies need to be onboarded and trained on the acquiring company’s guidelines.

So what should you do to enable your social media team to properly handle a merger or acquisition?

Ideally, if you can loop them in before the deal is final, they can help you with that social media analysis of the other company and prepare for the work ahead. I would say 60 days lead time would be ideal.

I do understand that sometimes the legal team may object to looping too many people in too early, but it will really will benefit all parties if you can make a plea on your social media team’s behalf. They can’t help you until they know the deal is happening.

If there is a formal M&A process at your company, work with the process owner to get social media official built into the process.

Especially for companies that like to grow by acquisition frequently, addressing where social media fits in the M&A process will only benefit the company, and your social team will really thank you.


This article was originally published here.

Sue Serna

Sue Serna is the founder and CEO of Serna Social, a consulting agency focused on digital and social media governance, risk, security and strategy. Sue is one of the nation’s top experts on social media safety and spent nearly nine years leading the global social media program for Cargill, one of the largest private companies in the United States. Sue pioneered many industry best practices that the world’s largest companies use to keep their social media footprints safe. While in that role, Sue managed Cargill’s more than 50 partner relationships with social media agencies around the world. In addition, Sue is an accomplished social media trainer and an established communicator with a passion for creating compelling content. In 2022, she was named to the Advisory Committee of the National Institute for Social Media.

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