Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 20, 2017

The race to judge – what does it mean to comms?

Yesterday I saw a post on LinkedIn from someone I don’t know and am not connected to, but it appeared for me because someone who is a connection of mine commented on that post. Without giving too many details, the poster made a choice to not report a shoplifter her child observed because it was apparent the situation was a desperate parent obtaining needed items for a child. The poster opted instead to give the shoplifter money and make this a teaching moment for their child about how life sometimes has “grey areas”.

The reaction from others on this post ranged from positive “way to go” and “great example for your child” comments, to “Keep this off LinkedIn” and “Is this Facebook now?” from others.

The negative comments on this post reminded me yet again of a trend I have noticed more and more in recent years as the use and impact of social media channels has increased – the race to judge. It’s something that often perplexes me, but it is also a cautionary tale for anyone who works in a communications role, as I do.

From a personal perspective, I just don’t understand in some situations why people even feel the need to wade in to certain discussions. The post I talk about that initiated my post is a perfect example. The person who posted the situation about the shoplifter was on her own page. She was not using a corporate LinkedIn page for that, nor did she link to any other account or in any way suggest that this was anything but a personal post. To me, it seems odd and kind of silly for so many people to get their knickers in a twist about this, to the point where they felt they needed to comment about it on this person’s post to judge the appropriateness of that post.

My own question in situations like this is almost always: “Why do you care?” My own reaction to the vast majority of posts like this that I may see scrolling by on my various social media accounts when I think something is wrong or irrelevant or unnecessary, is usually to shrug my shoulders and move on with my life. What do *I* care if someone I barely know [or in many cases don’t know AT ALL] thinks/says something I disagree with? What is accomplished by my snapping back or judging someone else’s opinions on stuff that, in 99% of cases I will have forgotten all about 15 minutes from now? Why bother? My answer is almost always: It doesn’t matter.

However, the fact is that I am in the minority holding that opinion in our new social media world. Many, many people feel completely entitled to immediately and publicly judge anyone and everyone whose opinions they may come across. Whether that is right or not is another post entirely, and one that I am not prepared to even try to write. What I DO want to talk about, though, is the impact this new reality has on the job of communicator.

As a communicator, whether I am talking with employees, or with external customers and audiences, I need to be cognizant of the fact that everything I share in any way and on any platform will be instantly and possible publicly dissected, judged and commented on by anyone with – or without – any level of knowledge about the subject under discussion.

That means I need to consider even more possibilities and reactions to what I will be sending out to the audience and be prepared for what may come back in response.

That doesn’t mean that I need to respond to every single reaction to the information I share on behalf of my organization – because that would be impossible, even if it was a good idea to do that, which it almost always is NOT – but thinking more thoroughly and deeply about the social media world reality and how people *might* react to what we are saying is important so that we aren’t caught unprepared if something boils up that we do think requires a response. Even if that response is only: “Thank you for sharing your perspective. We will certainly take that into consideration”, sometimes the acknowledgement of a comment and the attached commenter is enough to settle down a social media bubble.

And, when it IS appropriate to provide a more fulsome response to reaction or objections to something we have shared, having a plan prepared, and appropriate responses prepared before the message is even released is a good way to smoothly and successfully handle social media tempests.

I so often see issues with things organizations have said or done turning into maelstroms on social media, and with my communicator hat on I think: “What on EARTH were their communications people THINKING?!” about how they respond [if they do] or “How could they not have anticipated THAT?!” when they don’t respond, or respond too late and allow something that could have been dealt with quickly and efficiently to turn into a major dramatic “thing”.

Obviously, nobody can anticipate every single thing that people might say about your messages. Human nature being what it is, sometimes the reactions people come up with, way, WAY over there in left field are just unfathomable, and not something anyone could possibly have anticipated. But if you are a communicator, then you are – or should be – using social media, either for your organization or at least on your own, because that is part of doing your job well. So anticipating as much of the reaction to your messages as possible is an advance investment which will pay big ROI on minimizing the damage control you have to implement after the fact while the interwebs are screaming about how much your organization sucks. This is still one of the newer skills for some communicators [particularly those of us who have been doing comms since before the internet and social media became a factor] but it’s now a key part of doing our jobs, and something that needs to be factored into the plan, just like setting the objective and evaluating the audience if we hope to be successful in the new world we now live in.

What do you think? Is anticipating the social media reaction a standard part of your strategic planning for communications? If so, how do you manage that anticipation? What are your steps? I’d love to hear from others how you approach this!

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