Your Adoring Fans

adoringfansAs we diversify our communications methods, we’re running into more audiences. I mean, we always used to do that when we were just blasting messages through the big, fat pipe of the mass media, but now the public has admitted that they have feelings and thoughts and preferences. And some of those preferences are counter to the message that we push out. We say things and they’ve been empowered through social media to talk back. To yell back. To “express their constitutional right passionately,” as a friend of mine once said.

In public health, there is a certain segment of the population who doesn’t like what we say. They feel that many of the things public health does encroaches on their rights. From lead remediation to asbestos remediation to fluoridation to vaccines to isolation and quarantine. The anti-vaccine folks tend to be the loudest right now due to a now-disgraced theory that some vaccines can cause autism, but our field has struggled with this type of thing for a while. And I’m sure that it’s pretty much the same story for most government agencies. Police, food safety, schools, hell, government itself, all of us have detractors.

And normally, I’m one to take on those folks head on. Proactive communication, I say. Government agencies should be advocates, I’ve said. But a recent article that Denise Graveline published about your fans:

It’s an approach that can help focus your efforts and your message, not to mention your budget and productivity. As Seth Godin points out, “Instead of working so hard to prove the skeptics wrong, it makes a lot more sense to delight the true believers. They deserve it, after all, and they’re the ones that are going to spread the word for you.”

Should we be actively engaging with those who denigrate us? (I mean, besides the obvious correction of incorrect facts.) Or should we be concentrating on our adoring fans?

The rationale for these questions and which one is more important is exactly the same and it has to do with the ease of viral messages today. We just have to figure out which is more important to us:

Are you more scared of a negative viral message than you are excited about a positive viral message?

We live in an austere world and we need to make real decisions about where we focus our efforts. Should we be playing defense against bad things that someone might say about us that catch social media wildfire and are repeated everywhere? If so, we need to work to minimize the nay-sayers and work to convert them. Or should we be playing offense and trying to seed as many good things in the hopes that some of them catch social media wildfire and are repeated everywhere? If so, we need to identify, groom and make sure that our supporters have everything they need.

This isn’t a decision you or I can make. This is something we as organizations need to make together. What does your executive want to do? Is your comms team set up for defense or public relations? And I don’t know which is better. If you would’ve asked me this question a few days ago, I have no idea what I would’ve said. But I wonder what you think now that I’ve phrased the question this way. I’d love to see your comments below!

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Profile Photo David B. Grinberg

You raise an interesting and important question, Jim. Here's my personal take:

Social media is all about engagement. That means the good and the bad. Thus ignoring any citizens or stakeholders may be the wrong way to go. If there's a negative comment then offer a diplomatic reply so the person at least knows they connected with "Big Gov".

If the comment is just plan nasty and inappropriate, then perhaps it's best not to respond or merely offer a boilerplate acknowledgement the you've received the message and thanks for the feedback.

Ultimately, gov employees work for the people, not vice versa. The great thing about social media is that it opens up new and more convenient lines of communication to engage the public more actively. And, by doing so, letting the public know that gov can be efficient, responsive and offer immaculate customer service.

In short, we need to leverage social media engagement to the advantage of enhancing communication and customer service with the citizens we loyally serve.

Thanks for considering this.

Profile Photo Kevin Lanahan

We usually have a set of talking points for any topic that may generate controversy. When we get comments that mention government intrusion, falsehoods and other FUD, we reiterate the talking points, usually along the lines of "Studies have shown that..."

You have to engage, but not on their terms.