That is the Question.
Social media has become such an integral part of our daily lives that we often use it as a means to converse with both friends and strangers. The downside is that online conversations can quickly become contentious or controversial. In those instances, it’s common to have a knee-jerk reaction to a post or comment. Many “influencers” on social media have found fame with a witty or cutting comment. But for most of us, it’s an important reminder that a personal social media presence isn’t all that separate from your work life. So how do you decide (as an individual or a business) when to engage in controversial or sensitive topics on social media?
According to a 2020 Sprout Social survey, 70 percent of consumers expect brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. Consequently, 55 percent of consumers are willing to boycott a brand that doesn’t align with their personal views. These sensitive posts require careful consideration of potential outcomes.
Is it Necessary or Expected?
A 2018 article from McKinsey & Company, The Five Trademarks of Agile Companies, says we are moving from an “organization as machine” model to a new business paradigm of “organization as organism.” The agile company is dawning as the new dominant organizational paradigm. Rather than the organization as a machine, the agile organization is a living organism.
A machine is inflexible, unmoving, bureaucratic. A living organism is nimble and quick on its feet. It adapts to the environment quickly. If companies want to stay successful, they must act with agility and resist proxies.
Jeff Bezos says a common example is process as proxy. “Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing,” he says. “This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”
Stay Customer Obsessed
One of the most important considerations when deciding to post or comment is whether it’s necessary. If the answer is “no,” it might be a wise choice to refrain from posting. If the answer is “yes,” you’ll need to ask yourself next whether it’s expected—that is, will you (or your brand) be noticeably absent amongst your stakeholders, those who follow you, or those who know you personally if you don’t post? If you feel you’ll be considered absent at a time you’re expected to participate in a conversation, then it’s likely imperative that you craft a thoughtful post or comment.
Does the Risk Outweigh the Reward?
Is the person you are communicating with willing to say something outrageous? Will they take the debate to a place you cannot go? Are you willing to stoop to their level to reply? Think about their character and the way they interact with others. If there is a chance your comment might lead to reputation damage, you might want to reconsider. In other words, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
Consider what benefits the post will bring to your brand. Are you aiming for likes and shares, or stronger relationships and brand recognition? How will this post help you reach your goals? Will it affect the way your audience views your brand?
Are You Setting a Precedent?
When something tragic like a mass shooting or natural disaster takes place, there is a natural inclination to want to express sympathy. But if you don’t comment on every tragedy, will your brand be noticeably absent? Are you setting an expectation? Consistency is key, and it’s important to be conscious of what and when you are posting. Be consistent in the type of topics you post about and your stance on each subject.
Is It the Right Time?
Timing is everything when it comes to commenting on sensitive topics. Social media users move on to new issues quickly. You don’t want to fall behind the trend and make your audience think you only started caring about a topic after everyone else did. On the other hand, you may need time to consider your options properly. When a situation occurs, take a moment to think carefully about your post, then plan a response before the opportunity passes by.
Are You Prepared if Your Post Goes Viral?
Do you anticipate your followers will share or comment on your post? Will there be a positive reaction in these shares? A well-liked and engaging post can bring a lot of engagement and views to your brand. If your post matches what your audience is passionate about or interested in, it will likely be shared and see engagement. Consider the potential outcomes as you draft your post. Focus on the solution of the topics, rather than the issues.
If your comment does go viral, it can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. It’s always a good idea to make sure your team is prepared to handle an influx or backlash if you’re committed to posting something that could be considered controversial.
Is Anything Thing We’re Sharing Confidential or Sensitive?
It’s worth a reminder never to share confidential company information anywhere, primarily online. Here are some off limit social media topics: new product launches, strategies, information about employees, clients, and customers; leadership organization announcements. Social is a great place to make these announcements strategically and at the right time. Never off the cuff. If you have any doubts, ask your leadership, legal or HR department before posting. When in doubt, leave it out.
Does the Post Coordinate with Your Brand Messaging?
Whether a post is part of a social media campaign or a single response to a customer, all of your posts should match the tone and goals of your brand. If your team aims to promote diversity or social responsibility, focus on those larger goals with every post. And stay positive! Each comment and caption should align with the big picture of your brand. One of the best ways to prepare for controversial situations is by maintaining a strong understanding of your brand messaging goals before any crises occur.
What is Your Call to Action?
Setting an end goal and action for your posts could have a positive impact on your engagements. Think about if you want your audience to end up on your website, participate in a survey, or simply like and comment on the post. Posts that are widely shared or viewed are an excellent opportunity to connect your audience to your brand. Use these posts to your benefit by having a strong call to action.
Bottom line? A witty or pithy comment on social media can prove you’re an engaged brand or individual. Still, it’s equally important to take a moment to consider whether you might be saying the wrong thing at the wrong time—or whether it’s necessary to say anything at all. Before you hit “post,” wait 15 minutes, take a last look, and one big deep breath.
Crayton Webb is the owner and CEO of Sunwest Communications, a Dallas, Texas based Public Relations and Public affairs first. Previously, He was the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Mary Kay, Inc.