Whether you are a candidate running for office, an advocacy group seeking to influence public policy or a brand looking to shape your public image, the challenge is to seize the social conversation before it seizes you. Rather than worrying about reacting to your critics, you should be using social media to define yourself, proactively.
Face it, you cannot stop people from sharing negative comments about you, unless you are perfect in everyone's eyes (and even then, someone will complain that you are perfect). And getting sucked into debates with your detractors is often not the best way to promote your cause. More than anything, you have to drive your own narrative, get out ahead of the critics.
In the past, we had to rely on the "media" to shape your narrative. It was about pitching reporters and "earning" a story, or at least a sentence or two within one. But you cannot trust the media to tell your story the way you want it told. That said, we are all the media now and those of us not using social media to tell our own stories are ceding the conversation, not seizing the conversation.
When people search for your name, your issue, your brand on social media, they should find you talking about how good you are. They should find your staff talking about their work. They should find your supporters sharing your message. Even if they find your critics, your critics should be overwhelmed by your message.
But volume, alone, is not the solution. You have to produce compelling content to advance your message. Even if you are producing less content than your critics, if your content is better, it is more likely to be shared, and shared content also floods the zone with your message.
Given this state of affairs, campaigns and organizations have to take publishing their own story seriously. That means creating good original content, curating supportive external content and making sure you are learning how to do it better over time.
I often say that more people will interact with an organization via social media than through any other channel. And in many cases, more than all the other channels combined. And yet I am still seeing organizations that are not taking social media seriously. They have a Twitter account and Facebook page, but it isn't central to their outreach strategy or its managed by an intern.
When you consider how useful social media is for shaping the conversations about you, your cause or your brand, not making a center piece of your public outreach strategy is a mistake. Building your socal media capacity with the right staff, curation and analytics tools will ensure that your organization will be able to seize the converations that matter.
*Seize the Conversation
Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.