FACING OFF OR SAVING FACE ON FACEBOOK? KNOWING WHEN TO ENGAGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA CONVERSATIONS
How does PR deal with the blogger or the Facebook poster, who rarely has the full facts (who does?) but is happy to share and amplify snippets, solidified opinions or conjecture? Does the comms professional – armed with a full brief from their client or employer – wade into the online debate or hunker down to let the storm pass?
Of course, the answer is more complicated than choosing to engage or not because it depends on who is saying what. If it’s a ‘high authority’ blogger with hundreds of followers then it’s best to get in early to set the record straight; if it’s a throwaway comment designed to prompt a rise, then it’s best to stay out of the trap’s teeth.
Like most things in life, the answer is to practise, practise, practise. Part of the job of PR now is to monitor the Facebook pages, blogs and forums that key audiences inhabit. Much like the letters pages of the JEP are filled with a cohort of prolific correspondents who opine with every keyboard tap or stroke of the pen, so too is the blogosphere brimming with regular commentators. It is the job of the PR professional to monitor the banter to establish who is saying what, when and to whom.
Very quickly trends will emerge, opinions will become clear and agendas will be exposed. If it’s obvious that a blogger or commenter has some inside knowledge on an issue, joining the conversation at an early stage is often a good approach. Building a rapport through informality, flattery or providing new information that complements what’s already been said builds trust and respect. It all means that, when someone’s view needs to be reined in because it is inaccurate or misrepresents your client’s view, you’re already in the game.
Of course, you could spend all day engaging in idle online chatter but the PR professional has to identify the blogs and forums that count and then triage the users involved. That’s relatively straightforward in a small island community with a number of vocal agitators (some of them no doubt eyeing up a States seat in May’s election) but issues can still build momentum with breakneck speed so it requires regular monitoring.
The secret to engaging online is to be respectful, clear and talk in the language of the conversation. That doesn’t mean using emojis or letting basic grammar slip; instead, it means trying to influence what are likely to be deep-set opinions rather than obliterate them with cold fact. It is the Nobel Prize-winning nudge theory in operation. By knowing your online stakeholders, prioritising them and engaging with them early and respectfully, you’re unlikely to change views but you might ensure that alternative opinions are understood and the debate has more facts to influence it than it did before.