Don’t Let Your Social Channels Stifle Opinion

How much do you listen to your constituents via social channels? Be honest.

A recently released Pew report should worry communicators who are tasked with cultivating a dialogue with, customers, prospects and other stakeholders, particularly via social channels.

Pegged to Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records, the survey asked 1,801 adults about their willingness to talk about the revelations in various in-person and online settings.

According to the study, 86 percent of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42 percent of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media.

Is social media having a chilling effect on conversation that in any way deviates from the mundane and the celebratory?

If you think back about some of the positive moves you have made in your life, some of them were probably sparked by comments by your friends, family, spouses, that you initially deemed negative.

Indeed, the Pew study raises larger questions for PR pros about consumers’ readiness (or lack thereof) to discuss sensitive issues on social channels.

Of course, when social channels started to flourish they were supposed to herald an era of open communication, where consumers need not feel cowed by expressing unpopular (yet valid) opinions.

However, follow this trend uncovered by Pew to a logical conclusion and it won’t be just matters of national security that people aren’t willing to discuss on social channels, but any issue deemed sensitive or, worse, benign.

A globalized (and shrinking) economy demands that PR managers engage in conversations about their products and services that are going to point out their flaws and provide recommendations on how to build a better mousetrap.

If all the comments on your social channels speak to how wonderful your brand is then something is probably not right. And that’s a recipe for resting on your laurels, which is no recipe at all.

With that in mind, here are three ways to encourage warts-and-all conversation on your social platforms—and generate the kind of market intelligence that’s going to build your brand and find new audiences, rather than play it safe.

> Insert some language on your social accounts that will assuage people who may think that their comments about a particular subject may be off base. You want to maintain respect for the process and not let things get too personal, but not at the expense of stifling opinion.

> Try and start off a conversation on social platforms by taking a skeptical yet inquisitive approach about some challenges your company or agency may be experiencing. This gets so-called influencers to take your brand communications more seriously and demonstrates that your company won’t shrink from criticism.

> If you do get comments via social channels that, at first blush, seem to besmirch your brand, don’t be so quick to nuke them. Sure, the comment may be vituperative in nature, but it may also include insights about your company that you hadn’t considered and, with a closer look, helps to solve a problem.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1