Facebook

By Ruth Atherley

I have a diverse group of “friends” on Facebook. Some are family, some close friends, and some I have met through work or even through online groups and courses. They don’t see the world from the same perspective or through the same lens – at all. It can be very interesting to watch the differing opinions come out when something serious is going on in the world.

I think that stepping out of my own biases is important. I work hard to understand why people feel the way they do about a topic – and it’s not always easy to do when it appears that their values sit opposite to mine. I might not agree, but I do try to dig in and appreciate where they are coming from. As a global citizen and as a communications professional, I believe it is my obligation to put my personal lens aside so that I can better understand what their motivating factors are, especially for some of the more extreme opinions. It’s not comfortable or easy. (And I admit, there are quite a few ideologies that have recently become emboldened that I will never understand – and that I publicly push back against. But that is a blog post for another time.)

Often, a situation will arise or an incident will happen that has people commenting online – including on my Facebook page, which I take as a little microcosm of the world. And it is surprising how people can interpret what happened differently – usually in a way that supports their own belief system or narrative.

Even something as innocent as a little Facebook meme reminds me of how important it is to take the time to understand how your target market or audience sees the world and will view the information you want to share with them.

The other day, the image we have shared in this post was making the rounds on Facebook. It seemed like a pretty harmless little meme. Within a few days, two individuals on my Facebook page had shared it. Their description of it and the comments that were added by their Facebook friends were very different.

One person’s opinion was that when something happens on Facebook and people send “positive energy” and “love,” it is a useless, empty act that means nothing. Each of the comments on this person’s post agreed with him. It took on quite a mocking tone about how sending “positive energy” helps no one who has just experienced a terrorist attack, the loss of a loved one, or is having a difficult time.

Another Facebook friend shared the same meme – and said that this is exactly what is in her mind when she sees someone sending “positive energy” – that they are letting you know they are thinking about you and that they care. And the comments on her post supported that opinion.

As a communications professional, it is up to me to make sure that when a client is planning some type of announcement, campaign or initiative, we are all fully aware of what the response might be. And – even what might, to some, seem like a positive event or project could receive a critical response from others. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is on the same page or that they will see this (or anything) from the same perspective.

We have to be hyper-aware of any potentially negative or critical response and help our client to: a) understand why there might be this type of response; and b) to get ahead of it and be prepared. It doesn’t mean that we can make it go away, but perhaps there is a way to acknowledge and address the criticism(s) during the planning stage.

We all have biases and we see the world through our own experiences and belief systems. As communicators, we need to step into this and take the time to understand what that really means for our clients.

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This is the first in our AHA Social Media 101 series.

While it might seem that everyone else in the world has a full grasp of social media and is using it to grow their business, to raise the profile of their organization, and to generate new customers or clients, the fact is – there are many, many smart, accomplished and successful people who are confused, overwhelmed or who just don’t quite understand social media.

We are often asked basic questions about the value of specific social media networks, tools or technologies and we want to share some information here to help busy professionals understand if and how social media might help their organization.

This blog series can’t possibly tell you everything you need to know, but it will give you a brief overview of some of the more popular and emerging social elements. Once you understand what each social network is or does, the key is to ask yourself a few questions to see if the network, technology or tool will be useful for what you need. There are plenty of organizations using social media that are not seeing any kind of return on investment and, in our experience, that is because they are using them because they can and not because it was a decision made as a part of their overall strategic plan.

Facebook is the first social networking site in this series. It is a social networking site that doesn’t cost anything to join or to set up a business page, but it does sell advertising in the form of sponsored posts or ads.

Today, we are focusing on Facebook for business, not a personal page. Facebook has an estimated 1.5 billion (yep – billion, with a “b”) monthly and 1.03 billion daily active users. Canada has the most active users of anywhere in the world and according to a 2015 survey, 59% of Canadians have a Facebook account (I expect that number is higher today). You can see the breakdown of age and gender here too.

If you think about the purpose that Facebook serves, it provides an opportunity for organizations with consumer products or services (manufacturers, producers, retailers, etc.) to connect with your target market and stakeholder groups. Your target market has to come and “like” your Facebook page, which means that they are showing an interest in your organization and what you do.

Facebook provides the opportunity for you to share information, news and updates with a group of people who have taken an action – liked your page. You can share how you are an active, contributing member of your community, you can share product or service news and updates, you can showcase behind the scenes – spotlighting the people who work with you, you can ask questions and get feedback from your community, and so much more. You can share photos and video, you can choose to advertise (which is quite reasonable), and you can link this community to your website blog posts.

What you don’t want to do on Facebook is spend all of your time trying to sell your products or services. Think of Facebook as a coffee shop, where people who have an interest in what you do have come to check in and see what’s going on. Facebook is about sharing, responding and engaging. It’s about creating discussion and having conversations. The more you engage your Facebook community, the better.

Is Facebook right for you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Who is your target market? Is that demographic active on Facebook?
  • What will your purpose be in engaging with your target market here – to inform and build relationships or to sell?
  • What are your resources? Do you have someone identified to build editorial schedules, to create content (including images and video), someone who understands messaging and positioning, who can write in your brand voice and who is capable of responding to both positive and negative responses from your stakeholder groups?
  • How will you engage your target market to like your page?
  • How will you define and measure your success on Facebook?
  • If you are not getting engagement – likes, shares or comments on your Facebook page – are you able to clearly do an audit and revise your approach?

Facebook is a great social networking site. It is popular, with active users. To effectively make use of Facebook, you need to fully understand what your target market or stakeholder group would like to hear from you and how they would like to connect.

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Social MediaSocial media is a challenge when it comes to both your professional and personal lives. Posting to your social media accounts offers an often very public view of your opinions, hobbies, habits and attitudes. There really isn’t any separation between personal and professional anymore.

I have read many articles on the subject and have seen a couple of speakers say that you should keep your Facebook page personal and use LinkedIn, Twitter and other accounts for more public engagement with potential clients, customers, partners or employers. Well, the reality is – that’s not easy to do. LinkedIn is pretty straightforward; it is generally focused on professional networking and business-related topics. Other sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, aren’t so easy.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. How would you decline an existing or potential client or employer if they asked to friend you on Facebook? (And, if you haven’t experienced this, you will.) There is no easy way to decline that request. I have been immersed in the world of social media for more than 15 years – and I still haven’t found a good way to do it. That’s because turning someone away who has a connection to you does not build a good relationship. And it can look like you have something to hide.

The fact is, you can set up your privacy settings to stop some people from seeing all or some of your posts, but I know very few people who actually do this. While the person isn’t informed that you have done this, if they are paying attention, they might notice. And that doesn’t stop someone from tagging you or sharing inappropriate information and others seeing it. You have to be really on the ball and vigilant to make this work.

In working with clients, we have done social media audits that have turned up images of board members sitting beside someone smoking marijuana, senior staff drinking wine from a bottle, and several other pieces of information or photos that could damage their professional reputations. You can’t control everything and, for the most part, these kinds of things can be easily explained or put into context, but sometimes you don’t get that opportunity.

I have been on Facebook for a long time and I have friends, family, colleagues and both past and current clients as my Facebook friends. And while I do share some personal things, in the back of my mind I always ask myself – what if this ended up on the front page of a national newspaper… would I mind? We have a social media policy at AHA: We don’t post when we are sad or mad. And, for the most part, we focus on the positive. Even in a negative or serious situation, you can find something to say that is constructive.

The fact is, there is no longer a boundary between what you do in your personal and professional lives. They have blurred together. When you speak to young people in the workforce today, they expect the people who lead the organization to be transparent and authentic. More and more staffers are connected via social media networks – and often with their supervisors, managers, directors and the big cheese.

For the AHA team, we work closely with our clients and we usually have strong, positive relationships with them. Social media helps us build these relationships, as they can see who we are when we aren’t sitting at their boardroom tables. They can see who we are as real people. They are exposed to our values, our integrity and ethics in action – through example – not just from us telling them who we are. They can also see that we like to have fun, have a sense of humour, and they can learn about our hobbies and passions. For us, this is a benefit. People want to work with people they like and respect – and that’s a two-way street. When professional contacts connect with me on Facebook, I get to see who they really are too.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-american-spy-wearing-black-suit-holding-cup-image35529905Over the last few days, there has been some noise on social media about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) joining Twitter and Facebook. Their first tweet was: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”  It seems that they have a sense of humour.

Their objective – according to a statement by CIA Director John Brennan – is to “more directly engage the public and provide information on the CIA’s mission, history, and other developments.” In the statement, he also said: “We have important insights to share, and we want to make sure that unclassified information about the agency is more accessible to the American public that we serve, consistent with our national security mission.”

There were certainly some laugh-out-loud responses to the CIA’s first tweet and, in a day and age where we expect transparency from our government agencies, it seems to make sense that they would use social media. And I am sure the CIA has a budget to support this social media outreach – which is important, especially for a high profile, controversial organization such as this. At this point, their Twitter account has more than half a million followers, with Facebook at just about 40,000.

I am interested to see how this plays out. The director stated that they want to “more directly engage the public” – that is a pretty big objective for a spy organization. I think that in theory, it’s great that they are embracing social media. In reality, I think they will spend a great deal of time dealing with critics and controversy and defending their actions and their organization. I wonder what that will achieve for them in the short and longer term.

If they are going to use social media to push out information that can be found in news releases or other public statements, then I think it will be ineffective. Social media is about conversation, dialogue and discussion between people – it shouldn’t be used as a distribution channel that is one way. With half a million Twitter followers – that is a large number of people who will be paying attention to what they communicate.

At AHA, we have several high profile organizations as clients (not the CIA), and we have developed strategic communications plans that include social media. The research and strategy that goes into these plans includes understanding how and when social media could be an asset and when it might be a liability for the organization.

I think it is important to identify the risks of engaging and not engaging – and they both have risks. I spend a great deal of my professional life explaining why organizations should engage – but there are still times when the risk of engaging is higher than not engaging. If, after you have identified the risks of engaging, you find that it’s a long list – and you still believe you need to reach out – it is crucial to be properly resourced. And you need to have an issues communication plan in place. There is no doubt that the CIA will face issues online – their agency is too high profile and too controversial to avoid it. It may be that they use those issues to authentically engage and keep the American public (and the rest of the world) informed. We’ll see. As much as the online world has been around for a long time (heck, AHA has been involved in it for close to 15 years!) – it is still uncharted territory in many ways. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

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I have been a fan of Newark Mayor Cory Booker since a story broke last winter about Mayor Booker hearing about a dog left out in a snowstorm on a very cold night. He went to the house and took the dog. You can read more about that story and several others, where Mayor Booker went what can easily be considered above and beyond the call of duty here.

Mayor Booker is a hands-on kind of guy. He gets out and does what it takes to show his constituents that their issues matter to him. And his communications team does a good job of making sure we see and hear, through traditional media, about the things he does. However, the mayor is active (and quite funny) on Twitter, he is on Instagram and he has a Facebook account where he posts regularly.

He is currently running for the U.S. Senate and he is doing an excellent job of not crossing over and campaigning. He uses his mayor “shares” on social media for that job, and he uses his campaign social media accounts for the upcoming August Senate election.

Cory Booker is authentic and genuine. He connects with his constituents, rather than talk at them. He updates regularly. He responds – especially on Twitter, which seems to be his platform of choice. And he is human about it all. He also takes on the tough questions and the people who are clearly not fans of his. He doesn’t shy away from them. I think that earns him respect, even from those who will never vote for him.

There are very few politicians that I have seen who do such a good job of connecting with people, using social media. Cory Booker uses social media as an important tool, and it works because he sees it as a tool. He is who he is – he doesn’t pretend to be anyone else – and he is an active communicator using many avenues, including social media. He doesn’t hide behind his accounts. He uses them to showcase the work he is doing, to raise issues and concerns, to start dialogue, and to bring his citizens together when tragedy or a crisis strikes.

I realize that I am not the only one who thinks Cory Booker is an example of good social media use – PR News Online has a short piece on What PR pros can learn from Cory Booker.

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