By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
Think of social media as a compass. A compass has 360 degrees or points on it. If you face one direction, the opposite direction is 180 degrees from you.
In social media, any time you take a position on a topic, you can be assured that someone else has an opinion 180 degrees away from you – or the exact opposite opinion. And for that much, if we keep with the compass analogy, if you were to put 360 social media participants in a virtual space, you can bet that no two feel exactly the same. Each has a different opinion, ranging from just one or two degrees off to being 180 degrees away – or feeling exactly the opposite of someone else. You can see some of the digital impact of #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, and other social justice hashtags on social media here.
The media loves to report what people think on social media. Rather than conducting a scientific poll to measure public opinion, television reporters and producers turn to Facebook and Twitter to report how people feel about any issue. This replaces a previous disturbing, sad trend of the “man on the street interview.” This is where a television reporter hopelessly stands on a street corner trying to get sound bites from random people, to fill a hole in a new story.
Years ago, stories would have run on the news and people would have voiced their opinions at the office water cooler, at the corner bar, or at the beauty parlor.
Social media is a virtual office water cooler, corner bar and beauty parlor all connected to the world’s largest amplifier.
Add to it that search engines and hashtags allow the amplification to be searched and then amplified through the television news media, which means the television media will tell you what people think.
Sadly, and with a degree of bias, the media tell you what they think the prevailing thoughts are, even though my compass analogy tells you that whatever one person thinks about one issue, someone else thinks something slightly or very different. For example, for each person who believes people must wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, there is another person who believes they should not have to, or that the use of masks is not helpful to prevent the spread.
Social media is full of opinions. Many of us have heard a variety of quotes about opinions. They range from the mild, “Opinions are like Belly Buttons, everybody has one;” to the slightly more crude, “Opinions are like farts. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you have to let it out;” to the even more crude analogy I heard during my television news career, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one and thinks that everyone else’s stinks.” (Google “Opinion Quotes” to see countless more.)
The sad reality is the media, for nearly 20 years, has laid inflammatory opinions out for the public to hear, just to fuel a degree of outrage, so that people keep talking about what they heard on the news and where they heard it. News Talk Radio pioneered it and I’d say Rush Limbaugh turned it into an ugly ratings bonanza, copied by local talk radio, which has then been copied by Fox News and CNN each time they assemble a group of pundits who scream at each other with opposing views.
So how does this affect you if you are in PR and communications, working for a corporation, non-profit organization or government agency?
First, you must be more aware than ever that you will be judged harshly by critics for any and everything done by your organization, its executives, and its employees. Your efforts at good news publicity will be condemned by naysayers. Your future crises will become the focal point for public hostility in social media. I predict that someday in the not too distant future, companies will go out of business simply because of public pressure on social media.
Long term, your company could see serious damage to both reputation and revenue because of social media pressure. You could be forced to apologize for harmless acts or actions that capture the ire of social media.
In conclusion, every corporation, non-profit organization and government agency, and the executives and employees of each, face tougher scrutiny than ever. The time is now to rethink your media relations, social media and crisis communications strategies. What got no attention in the past will be more amplified than ever in the most costly ways.
Rethinking your media relations, social media, and crisis communications strategies can be extremely difficult and time-consuming, so these videos can walk you through it. View 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications here.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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