SOCIAL DEBATE: HOW TO USE FACEBOOK FOR A CONTROVERSIAL CONVERSATION (AND NOT TRIP IN THE MUD)
Elected officials are no strangers to landing smack in the middle of heated discussions and differing opinions. With social media as our new leading form of communication, these moments happen in real time, all of the time, and in front of an eternal audience.
Still, don’t let that scare you from posting about controversial topics. If it affects your community or your constituents, you want to play a role in constructive dialogue. These intense back and forth discussions often lead to some of our most effective legislation.
Let’s look at how you can use social media platforms to successfully engage on controversial topics. (We promise, these tips are fresh and newly pressed. This week, we put our best practices for handling difficult topics on social media to the test when our Mosaic team posted about our involvement in the campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill.)
Choose the Space: If you want public dialogue, we suggest posting on your official Facebook page. (Don’t have one? - Here’s how to get started.) Facebook allows users to post extended comments, images and articles which provides the stage for more thoughtful conversations. While Twitter is great for reaching journalists and responding quickly to trending topics, it does not allow for users to easily catch-up on the conversation and jump-in. Facebook also has been cracking down on trolls which is leading to less anonymous posting.
Set the Rules: Facebook has some great settings to help you keep your page clean. Use the settings, but make sure you are transparent with your followers about what settings you use. When turned on, the Profanity Filter prevents users from including foul language in their posts. According to the documentation, Facebook “determines what to block by using the most commonly reported words and phrases marked offensive by the community.” If you don’t want to give up control to Facebook, Page Moderation might be a great solution for you. Page Moderation allows you to automatically hide posts or comments that contain specific words. Only use this feature as a way to help prevent profanity and hate speech from filling your page. Warning: Do not use this feature to censor conversation around hot-topic issues.
Post with Care: Before posting, decide whether or not you want to take a stance on the issue or simply open it up to conversation. If you’d prefer to do the latter, add a current news article from a respected source to your post for educational purposes and pose a question to your audience. If you’re ready to share your specific position, make sure to run the language you plan to use by a colleague. While Facebook lets you edit your posts, edited posts lack authenticity and draw the attention away from the topic and towards your motives. In your post, be concise, direct and sound like yourself.
Moderate: Once you push post, start looking out for comments (make sure your notifications are turned on). Conversations on posts can heat up quickly. The more comments a post receives, the more people who are a part of it, the more Facebook timelines will display it. The conversation moves in real-time, so it’s important to monitor your comments and replies. During the initial stages of a post, we suggest only jumping in to say Thank You or to moderate. For us at Mosaic, moderating generally means reminding users of your ground rules for dialogue.
When a comment is particularly offensive, you may absolutely hide the comment. However, it’s important to let your audience know you are doing so and why. Here’s what we recently posted after a run of hateful and violent language to help focus the conversation in a respectful manner:
Step Back: When your post is gaining traction on its own, let your community drive it and engage directly with one another. If there’s a comment you strongly agree with or support, rather than replying with words simply use the Like button to add a reaction. Facebook users are fantastic at keeping the conversation flowing and calling out one another when appropriate. Taking a step back allows you to stay involved with the conversation without controlling it or getting caught in the weeds.
Conclude with Next Steps: You’ll know the thread has run its course when comments slow or the topic shifts. Here’s when you pick up the mic again. Before you add a concluding comment, make sure you thoroughly read through the post thread. Then, prepare a comment that thanks the participants, highlights important moments of the conversation, and looks ahead to next steps.
Keep Track: If you connect your social media accounts to integrated platforms, like NationBuilder, you can easily track the history of people who post on your Facebook page. This allows you to know who posts most and what they posted about. Frequently, after a controversial post it makes sense to reach out to specific users through a 1:1 message to take a deeper dive into their perspective or ask about potential partnership for the next steps.
Shake it Off: We know, these conversations can get emotional and personal. Let’s face it, we’re all human and words do hurt us. And sometimes, we say the wrong thing. Social Media moves in real-time, so go ahead and move forward right along with it.
Francesca Dulce Larson is a Partner at Mosaic Strategies Group, a full-service digital advocacy studio specializing in political campaigns. Francesca specializes in renovating traditional marketing methods for web and mobile platforms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 973-841-7079. Follow Mosaic’s work on Facebook.