A few days ago, Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT4) pointed out that House Republicans again wasted an opportunity to pass a jobs bill to vote for the "40th or 41st try" to repeal Obamacare. As has become commonplace these days, a detractor, most likely a Tea Partier (the name @libertytreeeman is rather suggestive), complained that Himes is exempt from Obamacare mandates and need not care if it is repealed (insert anger).
DECISION TIME. Should Rep. Himes have engaged or not? My decision rule is 1) can I persuade the detractor to my side of the issue? If YES, engage. If NO, proceed to decision rule 2) can I use a debate with the critic to persuade a larger audience to move to my side of the issue? If YES, engage. If NO, move on. I think in this instance, I would say Himes was right to engage based on rule 2.
Himes tries to lay out the facts as he responds to @libertytreeman, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Himes notes his sense of futility only after laying out his views and facts in six tweets. And when he expresses his sense that the facts won't change @libertytreeman's point of view, he does so, in my view, calmly and civilly (despite accusations to the contrary by @libertytreeman... you can read the conversation and judge for yourself).
Using facts and logic in a calm voice is a good way to get your point across. Creating a narrative that creates an emotional connection to the facts is even better. These tactics make your message compelling.
Not stooping to the base level of your detractor (read: troll) sets your detractor off as your foil. You can leverage the contrast between the two of you to improve your persuasiveness. The more he or she uses ad hominem attacks, eschews evidence, and degenerates into a logic swamp, the better you and your argument looks to the audience.
The key is to remember that there will always be people following your debate in their timeline. Some in your audience will be undecided or persuadable. Consider them your primary audience.
Now, tactically, you have to make sure your audience sees your debate. If you always reply directly to your detractor, only the intersection of your followers will see your tweets. In order to ensure your primary audience sees your debate, mix in these tactics to your tweets:
- Avoid directly replying to your detractor in every tweet.
- Occasionally, retweet them and add your comment to the RT.
- Or Auto-RT them and then follow with your response with the detractors @name at the end in your next tweet.
- And always use hashtags when you directly reply.
These tactics ensure that your tweets in the discussion are delivered to all of your followers' timelines. And the hashtags will help deliver your tweets beyond your followers.
A good debate can be very persuasive content, if you do it right. But you must pick your debates wisely and come to them with good strategy, tactics and a sound, evidenced argument. Do that and you'll know when to engage, who you are talking to and what you should say to get a good return on influence.
As for Himes, The Hill says he was right on the facts. And, especially since his debate made it to TheHill.com, lots of people got to see his debate.
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.