A lot of my work is done in the resource sector. My clients here often face opposition from advocacy groups or segments of the population concerned about the impact that certain large scale developments will have on their health, their environment and the economy. In fact, thanks to social media, opposition efforts to such projects have become so powerful that they can now rapidly turn public opinion and government policy around in a couple of months.
This is why resource companies, traditionally not strong communicators or marketers, are waking up to the challenge of engaging with the public online and participating in debates around the pros and cons of their projects from a public benefit standpoint. That being said, most are scared stiff of online activists, who they feel are out to get them and intent on shutting them down.
A former activist myself, I see the problem differently. Through my work, I have repeatedly witnessed successful and productive exchanges between activists and the companies they are taking on. There are ways to make this a win for the subject under fire and, ultimately, for a world in which more and more of our sticky problems will need to be resolved through large scale dialogues.
I recently put together a presentation on this topic. See the embed below for a quick visual run-through.
Here is a point form rundown of steps companies need to take to understand what motivates online activists and, ultimately, how to engage productively with them.
Principle 1: Activists are stronger, better and faster communicators
- They are motivated by first order concerns, therefore, time and energy are not an issue
- They generally have wider affiliate networks online and their networks are more motivated to help and share
- They don’t need revisions of their content or approvals from legal before publishing
- They are more trusted by their peers than corporations or governments (see Edelman Trust Barometer)
Principle 2: Understand why activists are angered by you
- Activists believe that your project threatens their well being as well as that of their loved ones
- Activists believe that corporations have all the power so they have to make up for the imbalance
- Activists believe that corporations have no ethics when it comes to imposing their point of view
Principle 3: Don’t be a bully
- Do not engage in any form of censorship (removing content or comments without justification)
- Never condescend to those who criticize you, however angered you (as a moderator) may feel
- Answer critics openly and with respect, no matter how nasty the exchanges have become
Principle 4: Get your act together
- Establish solid House Rules for your networks and discussion spaces
- Set up a Moderation Protocol that explains how Rules will be consistently applied
- Set up a Crisis Management Protocol for when things get out of hand
Principle 5: Open spaces for productive debate
- Set up open online spaces where criticism is welcome
- Engage in Q+A with your critics
- Demonstrate concern for the issues your critics raise
- Take on tough questions and challenges, answer them quickly