Every Government agency is saying that they want to be a part of Social Media. The thing that many Agencies and Politicians who have started Social Media campaigns are forgetting is that before they launch their campaigns they need to define their goals are map out how to achieve them.
They forget to ask themselves if it is it to bring in revenue by selling items with logos on them, or is their goal to turn Social Media into a media outlet to find out what people want or to calm down rumors? Are they trying to build a fan base to help get their messages across the country and the world without holding press conferences, or are they looking to engage a discussion to help fend off bad press. The first thing that most Government Agencies and Politicians forget is to actually define a goal and then create a feasible plan to achieve it.
The next thing that they forget is that Social Media isn’t just Facebook and Twitter. It is video channels like YouTube.com, niche sites like YouPet.com and even techie sites like Hawkee.com. You have Bloggers out there on virtually every topic from gay weddings to conservativism. Government Agencies and Politicians forget that they need to actively engage these groups to really create an actual buzz. This is why some small companies and unknown brands are able to get millions of visitors without having to spend money or to hold a press conference, which they couldn’t afford anyways. The Government is lucky in one aspect because they don’t have to build an audience. The audience is already there and the press wants to pick up their stories without any pitches. All they have to do is learn to set goals for their social media campaigns and actively engage their audience. Here are 5 things that could really help a Government Agency or a Politician get their Social Media campaigns running and to help keep bad PR under control.
1. Don’t forget that Social Media is about engaging your audience.
One thing that that many Politicians or Government Agencies forget is that Social Media is about engaging and interacting with a community. The reason why Non Profits or Activist groups form is that someone had something to say and found others who agree with them. They then formed a larger group. The internet and Social Media enable people to not have to form a group with a physical presence in order to get a message across. Instead they can state something and possibly find thousands of others who agree with them in seconds. All of the sudden you have a mob of people who are ready to voice their opinions and take you down. This is something that Government Agencies and Politicians usually fear.
The sad truth is that they are there to serve and represent us. Instead of doing this it seems like they are afraid to or unable to answer our questions so they avoid them or give us some sort of spin. If you avoid the negative comments or give run around answers then you are not engaging your audience and your fans will eventually turn on you. From that point on you may find an internet and PR nightmare on your hands. I’ll go into this further in point 3.
What Government Agencies and Politicians need to do is to actually engage their audiences by interacting with them. This is why they all have front facing people in their offices and departments. This is why there is customer service and people that the public can call. Why not have people that they can trust go out and answer questions and actively engage and work with these crowds online as well. They have to remember that giving run around answers sparks flames and turns into fires so they have to be prepared to actually give answers if they want to control what happens in the press and online. Not only will this calm down some angry citizens and mobs, but it will show that there are real people there and that you can say what you need to say without having to cause a scene.
2. If you shoot videos and bring up topics, don’t forget to provide a url for your viewers and followers to go to discuss the video.
This not only brings the discussion to your own playing field, but it keeps negative comments from going crazy on a million other sites. If you created a video about something, you obviously had something you felt was important enough to share. Because you are part of a political campaign or Government Agency you will automatically have a public interest and following. This also means that people are probably going to talk about it.
Whether or not those people agree or disagree with you, by providing a url in the video where they know you will be watching, you have now given them somewhere to go instead of onto larger blogs or communities where you cannot monitor everything and have no control. Providing them with a url also gives you a chance to do damage control since you have brought them to an environment that you have a say in instead of letting them bring it to a different community where the Moderators and Site Owners have all the control.
Most of the time when people are pissed off they’ll go where they can be heard. All they normally want is to be heard or to get an apology and if they find a similar group of people, it could explode into a PR nightmare. If you tell them where you are and where you are checking for responses, there is a better chance they will blast you there where you can control the conversation and the people looking for the negative side will also know to check there and see both sides of the story. This not only enables you to do more damage control but it also creates an environment where people will come to find out the truth instead of going to ten or twenty other communities online. It makes negative PR much more manageable. Setting up and including a url or domain for people to come to after you release a video is a great way to control a lot of damage or negative PR that may come from the video or topic.
3. Don’t be afraid of negative comments.
The first thing most Government Agencies and Politicians do with bad PR is try to hide it or remove it. Unfortunately with Social Media and the web you cannot always make this go away. There are millions of sites and blogs out there and each of them has a chance to show up in the search engines or in larger sites and media websites. If the right Blogger or Social Media influencer picks up on the story, it could become worse than Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky Scandal as far as bad PR. Cook Source and content scraping is a perfect example of a recent negative comment or response that a company did not try to control. Instead of apologizing or making a small donation they ended up with a PR nightmare. Go ahead anddo a Google search for their name and you’ll see the insane amount of negative PR they created. Imagine if that was your Political Candidate or Government Agency.
Another example is with the USDA and Unicorn Meat. Not only could the USDA have controlled the backlash and regained the confidence of the US consumers, but they could have also prevented the negative PR. The fact that people still remember this and use this as a reference on why you shouldn’t threaten and anger people for leaving negative comments or to sue them for things that are clearly for entertainment and had no intentions of hurting anyone. Don’t piss off and threaten to sue your enemies. Instead address the issues and don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong or just say you are sorry. Normally that is all people want to hear and can stop a PR nightmare from happening before it starts. Cook Source wasn’t so lucky but Think Geek was.
By using the advice in point 2, you can bring negative comments to your own community and better keep it under control. Other companies may write about it but they will probably also link to your site to let people know where they can find a response or your side of the story. This not only brings people in to find out the truth, but it allows you to tell your side of the story and also to build more traffic so you can build a larger fan base.
4. Don’t forget to tip the media to larger discussions.
If you have something positive that is growing in Social Media, alert the press and any major Bloggers or websites that you are friends with. If you help build even more buzz by reaching out to them or by leaking bits and pieces of news releases, you can not only get more out of the campaign but you can get your message to spread without having to call a press assembly. This also helps to make your followers and fans feel like they are a part of something.
A lot of people like to watch the news. That’s why you hold press conferences. However if you can make your followers and fans feel like the reporter who gets the information before the public does with a small leak, you have made your audience feel important and they can spread it much faster and more effectively than any news station or media outlet. Not only will they want to spread the news through Twitter, Facebook and other sites, but it will spread before the actual Media companies can get to it. You will also have been able to engage them by making them feel special and you may get them to pay more attention to your messaging because they want that feeling that they belong again.
By helping your fans and followers feel like a part of your Agency or Campaign, you are also helping them feel empowered and giving them a reason to come to your defense if an opponent decides to start a negative PR campaign. This army of dedicated fans and followers is something that you can and will be able to depend and rely on while your Lawyers and PR teams are figuring out how they want to “handle” different issues. Why not let real people come out and respond and defend you instead of Lawyers? It shows that you have support from people just like your opponents and are not just giving some Government or political spin. It also shows that people care about you so you might not be the horrible monster your opposition makes you out to be.
5. Set up times for key people to be active and answer questions.
The last tip I have for Government Agencies and Politicians is to set up a daily or weekly time where you are available to respond to questions or issues. Look at Zappos as an example. Their CEO goes onto Twitter (@zappos) and interacts with customers all the time. You have Celebrities that do this and even working Actors on broadway find time to talk to their fans. If they can do it then Politicians and Executives in Agencies can to. It is not only important so that you can make your fans and friends feel like they are a part of your world, but that they can also reach you. It also brings your opposition to you since they know where to find you and that you are not afraid to respond. What they may not expect is if they come to you where your fan base is, your army of fans will be there to fight them off for you as well.
Communities and fans love to know that their Celebrities, Politicians and favorite Agencies are real. By having the actual person there, not their PR spokesperson or Rep., you not only help to let them know that their voices are being heard, but you also give them a reason to come back to your site and refer other people to come as well.
Government Agencies and Politicians have it easy. They don’t have to build a buzz. They just need to stamp a press release with their seal and send it out to get newspapers and media channels to pick it up. Because the hard part of building an audience is done, why not use it to your advantage and bring people to your own sites. By doing these 5 simple things, Government Agencies and Politicians can not only help to better use Social Media to get their messages across, but they can bring back the support of the people they are supposed to represent and serve, which is why they are supposed to exist in the first place.