Festive Byte: Views on When to Ho-Ho Them and When to Tranquilly Fold Them

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We’re at the apex of the “frantic” time of year: holiday shopping, business and private parties, seasonal school plays and concerts; a festive period that lasts until the end of the calendar year, into nascent 2012.

Granted, from a religious perspective (or even its commercial gift-giving-and-eating version), many people don’t recognize or celebrate the “big” Christmas holiday, but in western countries it is a statutory holiday. And despite religious origins, people of other faiths recognize and appreciate the tranquil aspects of the holiday: peace and goodwill, festive lights and yummy food. At a minimum, after a pre-holiday rush of ramped-up commerce and official holiday wishes, most business sectors benefit from work down time, with many employees taking advantage of time off for travel or other interests.

Evolving social business

By my reckoning—from a social business perspective—multiple digital platforms really began to take hold effective the latter half of 2008. During the ensuing three years conventional wisdom declared that even if an enterprise was closed for X number of days in the second half of December it needed to maintain an active social profile, 24/7.

This Byte examines whether social business must remain Ho Ho actively engaged for the second half of December. Alternatively, has social media recalibrated in 2011, allowing a social business presence to reflect its brick-and-mortar enterprise and temporarily, tranquilly shutter accounts during holidays, without a PR backlash?

Colombian tweetchat social contact on the American Thanksgiving holiday

A conversation began back in November with Daniel Trujillo, service manager with Wall Street Institute, in Bogotá. Daniel has a BA in political science and government and is pursuing a second degree in international trade.

“For those of us who are removed from the traditional American celebration of Thanksgiving, it was confusing to find some of our business associates going off the grid for a long weekend, starting on Thursday and extending until Monday. With only five business days a week, we sometimes find our work crippled not being able to communicate with our American peers for two days. My business is American based; therefore, the Thanksgiving holiday really threw off our operations.”

Daniel continued, “I understand the holiday spirit and the importance of a celebration [describing Colombia’s July 20th Independence Day]. Yet when it comes to social media, it seems inconvenient that interactions should cease the world over on account of a national holiday observed only by nationals of one country. In other words, as not everyone is celebrating the holiday a social media presence should not be diminished during the duration of the festivity.”

Asked if this was true about the more globally celebrated Christmas, Daniel does believe an active social business presence remains important during most of the holiday period, because celebrations don’t apply to all stakeholders at the same time. He pointed to Asian customers as an example, “It might be seen as inconvenient to work on one’s social media presence throughout the holidays, but business is made for one’s customers, who do not always belong to the same social circle or live in the same social reality.”

Although Christmas is a significant, religious (albeit increasingly commercialized) Colombian holiday, Daniel indicates he will take only one additional day off, on December 23rd.

Oz friend announces his volunteer stint in Cambodia

A December 1st message: “I didn’t give blood for the Red Cross, I haven’t sold charity fundraising chocolates. I haven’t even given to the busker in the Wynard tunnel. But later this month, I’m heading back to Future Light Orphanage Worldmate (FLOW) in Cambodia for two weeks. Although the name gives an impression it’s some sort of Khmer space camp for parentless wannabe astronauts, it’s actually a home for about 230 children, aged 5 to 21. Some still have parents in poor faraway villages, most do not, for a variety of reasons. It’s an amazing place—no tears, no tantrums, no iPads or video games. But lots of laughing and a real eagerness to learn…. ”

The email was sent by Alvin Wong, senior communication and sustainability manager at Westpac. I “met” Alvin online in Ragan’s listserv forum in the 1990s (where we were both recruited as contributors for Ragan Report’s Sound Bites column). In November and December of 2008,Alvin offered me a home base during three of my five weeks in Australia.

This will be Alvin’s third time “…getting my hands dirty and trying to walk the talk about community involvement.” He’s raised more than AU$3,000 from work colleagues and friends for FLOW’s needs. He wrote, ” I’ll be teaching English: equipping them with the necessary skills and running workshops to enable them to become the best spin doctors befitting any blue chip organisation (joke there). Seriously, I’ll be starting with the basics: the ABC, word games, spelling bees, See Spot Run and the like. Think pre-school to grade 3 materials. I’ll also be donning my climate change hat and hopefully implementing a few environment-friendly initiatives.”

And he plans to take all 230 children to the local zoo on New Year’s Day as his birthday treat. The admission cost and location is a little prohibitive for the kids and staff to make it on their own, as the average Cambodian’s daily wage is around US$2.20.

Although a personal endeavour, Alvin was granted two “community volunteering leave” days. Westpac gives employees one volunteer leave day per year; he joined up his 2011 and 2012 allocations. (Alvin placed a video of his last volunteer stint on Westpac’s Pacific Banking share drive. The Facebook version was deleted due to music copyright infringements.)

As he leaves on December 25th, we compared notes on the frantic Ho Ho aspect to the holidays.Alvin indicated, “I’m not big into the big rah rah of Christmas. I’m amazed by everyone running around like a headless chook getting presents, food, etc., for the big day. We worry about eating too much during the year, eat way too much on Christmas day and then vow to hit the gym as a New Year’s resolution to work it all off. Spend a little time at the orphanage and you’ll see how lucky we really are. It puts a lot of things in perspective.”

What’s the important takeaway for this Byte? If you’re going to be away from work and offline for a significant period of time, make a point of telling people in advance, with some narrative as to why.

Strategic Objectives: an agency that embraces social business, 24/7

Agency and social media trailblazer, Deborah Weinstein, president and partner in Strategic Objectives has an unequivocal viewpoint, “Strategic Objectives is available to our clients, the traditional and social media, 24/7, 365 days a year. We respect our employees’ time and everyone gets their desired time off to be with friends and family over the holidays, but we have a senior team in place that is always on call and ready to serve. At least 50 per cent of our team are ‘online and available’ and checking in remotely throughout the holiday season.” @SO_pr is closed on all statutory holidays and all religious holidays are respected. As a bonus, the office is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Deborah believes traditional and social media never sleep, seeing both as 24/7, 365 days-a-year communication opportunities. One agency client plans a media tour in the week between Christmas and New Year to capitalize on traditional lack of news-making—advance media response is terrific.

From a social business perspective, Deborah says, “Social accounts we’re responsible for will have the same volume and level of engagement as always. We work with our clients to develop holiday-themed strategies and content that maximizes engagement opportunities with social audiences…. Easy access to scheduled content programming via Hootsuite and other platforms makes it possible to maintain a relevant presence through the holidays, and instant smart phone access makes rapid response possible, doable and expected in the virtual world.”

Looking forward to a Christmas break, Deborah explains, “It is my cherished time to catch up with books I’ve meant to read, enriching cultural exhibits and museum-going and visiting my home town of Montreal. I’ll be spending the holidays this year with my Washington, DC-based sister, Andrea, at Mount Tremblant.” Given that Strategic Objectives was IABC/Toronto’s “PR Agency of the Year” in both 2011 and 2009, representing many of Canada and the world’s leading brands, who would deny its president some precious downtime, especially with agency reps keeping the online profile actively engaged?

Sound bytes from #solopr colleagues

I again sought Twitter chat input regarding the need for an active online presence over the holidays (Q1). Unexpected were interesting observations offered about how online activity slowed down two weeks before Christmas—similar to the American Thanksgiving “week.”

Some extracts (lightly copy edited):

Kellye Crane (chat moderator): I’m noticing very low response to links, etc., already—it started two weeks before Christmas. So, I’m rethinking my online time. I’m also wondering about this for clients: does it make sense to keep a high level of activity if no one is listening? Perhaps it’s not so much “slow,” as people are in a different frame of mind.

Mustafa Stefan Dill: It’s busy, same as always, perhaps more…. Things are actually ramping up, here.

Lois Martin: Many clients are very busy with holiday preparation and wrapping up work right now. I have met with clients to map out their year-end needs, including social media posts. I will be on “vacation,” but available to them if needed.

Makasha Dorsey: It’s been active for clients because of relative news cycles, but very low key for me.

Daria Steigman: It’s always a balance; if you strike the right one, you don’t have to break so much. For the record, I am off as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21st—no more client work planned until 2012. I’m ticking off the meetings between now and then!

Jenny Schmitt: It’s busy, I’m getting many calling, looking for counsel to start their 2012 off right. I think I attract procrastinators!

Farida Harianawala: I don’t consciously take a break, but since I’m spending less time in front of a computer, I end up being not as active. I don’t think it make sense to share a lot of links during down times; there’s no point trying to be “active” for the sake of appearance.

Kristie Aylett, APR: I’ll check in every once in a while, but hope to be out of office more than in. It’s not slow this week, as I can see clients getting ready for extended absences. But here’s a tip: Consider reporters who need to file a story over the next weeks but can’t reach their usual sources. Cue music: Here I come to save the day!

Karen Swim: It’s been a little lighter, as activity and attentions seems to be waning already regarding client accounts; it’s probably the same for my own online usage. Yes, I noticed the early slowdown and it’s surprising for me, too. Usually this week is busier.

Regine Nelson: I will be out of the country. Limited access to social networks and email, but I will be available during the holidays for clients.

Kellye Crane: I think the answer is no: be on when you want to (and when client needs dictate), but otherwise, enjoy time off!


Responses vary re: the need for an active online presence during holiday periods. Recalibration takeaway: social enterprises that take a break likely won’t suffer the criticisms of earlier years.

Ultimately, examine your stakeholder base and their likelihood of online needs, plus if this presents communication opportunities your competitors haven’t considered.

If you do decide to close the online shop for a spell, take a cue from my Aussie pal and advertise in advance:

  • change your Twitter profile
  • place a “closed for the holidays” update on your website and Facebook page
  • write a short but warm blog post and Google+ message
  • create a video with messages from a variety of employees, indicating how they will spend their time off and house it in appropriate places, such as your corporate YouTube channel or blog

So is your organization taking a social media break? If yes, how will you be spending your downtime?

Until the next Byte in 2012, wishing you a joyous holiday season, whether you choose to spend it online or off or a combination there-on-off.

Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita


Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
What Brands Need to Know Before Hijacking a #Hashtag http://t.co/PUGpPrsMAx by @kempedmonds for @hootsuite h/t @kfreberg - 12 hours ago
Judy Gombita


  1. says

    Correspondence yesterday from Alvin Wong, who (somewhat shyly) shared this post around with other employees at Westpac and saw his fundraising efforts for FLOW double to around AU$6,000 as a result.

    That’s the power of getting the word out (and telling a powerful story) when you are doing something wonderful. Public relations at its finest.

      • says

        You’re welcome, Neal. What’s the most incredible about Alvin raising this much money is that the orphanage is not a “registered” Australian charity, meaning that Westpac employees (or other Aussie friends) do not receive a charitable tax receipt. Which makes the fact that so many contributed even more special–they have faith in Alvin’s word about the needs of FLOW.

        This information was in the December 1st email message:

        Last year,
        I brought over about AU$2500 of generous donations from work colleagues
        and friends. This bought as much stationery as I could carry (at their
        request; the stationery that is, not me looking like a pack horse) with
        the leftover funds enabling them to buy five computers for their computer
        lab. (Funds from my trip back in 2006 allowed me to buy stationery and
        massive bags of rice – pictures of which they took great glee in emailing
        to me soon after the purchase.)

  2. Daniel Trujillo says

    What is really interesting about this topic is that many do not even perceive the problem at hand. It is, in my view, a deeply rooted probe that of brands disappearing from Social Media just because they feel no one is listening based solely on the fact that they do not wish to be talking. You must, as a brand, understand that people never really go offline, even if as Kellye says, they are in a different frame of mind.
    Again, thank you for considering my comment, Judy. Great column!

    • says

      Definitely Deborah Weinstein agrees with your point of view, Daniel. But what I wanted to explore in this column is whether the “norms” regarding expectations of a “social business” are, in fact, changing.

      A social enterprise is (or should be) reflective of what’s happening within the organization itself, regarding the various relationships with its stakeholders (employees, vendors, customers, community, etc.). A lot of them are involved more in B2B (business to business) relationships, rather than B2C (business to consumer) ones. If the majority of staff have actually been given time off to celebrate a holiday and/or engage in downtime or pursuits, doesn’t it actually present a “false” reality, if the social media channels are going gangbusters?

      That’s why one of my final takeway observation is that a social business can actually take some time off–provided it advertises that fact–and not get slammed.

      This does not preclude the normal “in case of an emergency” or “for technical advice” staff or messaging that should always be in place.

      Thanks again for participating in this column, Daniel. And I’m looking forward to “seeing” you in the various Twitter chats once they resume after the holiday break. Merry Christmas!

  3. says

     I love scheduled tweets and blog posts (in addition to live posting), but when I take a few days off for holidays, I make sure there is nothing scheduled for that time. It’s confusing when people announce they’ll be away from their social media platforms for a while, but blog posts, tweets, etc. from them keep showing up. Not to mention that they aren’t able to follow up (for a while) on any comments their posts or tweets generate.

    • says

      Thanks, Rita, for acting on my suggestion and posting your great comment here on Windmill Networking. Enjoy your “offline” holiday time. :-)

      For the benefit of other readers, I cross-posted this column on three of my LinkedIn Groups, one of which was Canadian Women in Communications. Rita originally left this comment in that group. I shared it with the various column contributors (and Neal Schaffer) and we felt that it was very useful to hear some additional perspective.

      Side note: this is the beauty of reproducing “content for consuming” in secondary social media channels, for greater exposure. CWC is a great place to get input from Canadian women executives. (Bonus: now Rita and I are official “LinkedIn” mates, too.)

  4. says

    I had this great idea about writing an article for social media managers on how to survive the Festive Season, but Judy Gombita beat me to it :) Thank you so much for the insights Judy which I have shared with my followers.

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