Corporate mergers and acquisitions are long, complicated deals that take months if not years to execute. And yet in all of that planning, many companies completely overlook social media as part of their M&A process.

This is a huge mistake.

In this article, I’ll walk through both why this is so crucial for all M&A and how the process ideally should work. M&A can be complicated, but having a structure and plan in place ensures you set your company and your social media team up for success.

The risks of excluding social from your M&A strategy

Even if you typically give two hoots about social media, this is one time you must care about it. Why? Risk. If you don’t cover your social media bases, you open your company up to a host of legal and other risks:

  • Reputational risk: Most due diligence processes look at a host of internal variables. But many overlook external ones. Your social media team can and should help you vet the company that you plan to acquire as part of due diligence. They can look at how it shows up to the public and scan for reputational concerns. For instance, if consumers largely believe the company pollutes the environment, that might be worth knowing before the deal closes. It can even be a negotiating chip. I have seen this type of analysis stop a deal from proceeding, so it’s well worth the effort.
  • Legal risk: Many people don’t realize that the acquiring company is responsible for everything published on all social media channels starting on legal day one (i.e., the first day that the deal is final). So the time to tell your social team that they are inheriting X number of new channels is not the day before. They need time to coordinate with the other company’s team and get a plan in place—it is not a simple process.
  • Compliance risk: Especially for companies in regulated industries like finance and pharmaceutical, there is additional risk as everything posted on your social media channels must comply with strict federal regulations for communication. Violations can come with steep fines. And if you’re in Europe, you also have to worry about GDPR compliance. As previously stated, the acquiring company is responsible for everything on all channels as of legal day one.
  • External content and communication: Imagine that your social media manager has their week all planned out. Then on Tuesday, you tell them, “We’re acquiring company X tomorrow! Let’s post on social media about it.” This is inherently unfair to your social team. They have to scrap their existing plan, create content on the fly, get approvals and somehow make sure their posts align with any posts going out on the channels of the acquired company. Net result: chaos and often sloppy, uncoordinated external communications across the two brands.

A social media planning framework for before, during and after mergers or acquisitions

So what should happen?

Having been through dozens of corporate mergers and acquisitions in my career, here’s my outline for what ideally should happen—both pre- and post-deal.

60-90 days before the deal closes:

  • Get permission from legal to brief your social media team as soon as it is permissible (have them sign an NDA if you must). The earlier, the better.
  • Connect them with the social media team at the other company as soon as possible so they can start discussing their individual operations, how best to merge them and formulate a game plan for day one.
  • Ask your social team to perform a reputation analysis of the other company, evaluating external “chatter” about the company, looking at news coverage and basically looking for any red flags.

30 days before the deal closes:

  • This is the time to be talking about social media content to ensure posts from both companies are aligned and all approvals needed will be acquired in time.
  • If you are in a regulated industry like pharmaceutical or finance, make sure your compliance folks are involved to ensure the right mechanisms are in place for compliance for the new channels.

During the close:

  • The day before, check in again just to ensure everything is ready.
  • The day of, ask your social team to monitor and report on reaction to the news and owned social media posts.

30 days after close:

  • By now your social team should have control of all channels and be working on integrating the acquired company’s team and channels into their day-to-day operation.
  • This is also the time when tough decisions may have to be made if you have redundant staff.

60 days after close:

  • Your team should have a good idea about the tools each is using, and your social team should start formulating long-term plans for eliminating redundant tools, switching users over, etc. This is a long process, and you may have to wait for contracts to expire. But your social team should be formulating a plan.
  • This is also the time when you might want to start discussing any agency partners for each company and how you want to use external resources going forward.

90 days after close:

Fully integrating two separate social media operations takes a long time—longer than you’d think. It can take a year or more to really integrate completely. But at 90 days, your team should be now operating as one integrated team (or at least starting to). They should be largely using the same tools (ideally). And they should be aligning on process and procedure for the day-to-day operation of social media.

Infographic highlighting six questions social teams need to ask while going through a merger or acquisition

Successful M&A demands social team involvement

Remember: the timeline above is an ideal state. It is very common for the acquired company to retain its own branding and identity for a period of time or permanently. All of those factors will play into how the two social teams merge. They may operate as independent teams for a period of time, so this 30-60-90 day timeline may need to be stretched out. But the overall order of operations is still accurate, even if it has to be a 90-180-360 plan.

Finally, if your company has not built social media into its official M&A process, it should. Period.