How to Protect Your Authentic Voice on Social Media
Protecting Your Online Persona Series - Article #1
We’ve created a Social Media blog series with three articles to provide you a comprehensive plan to protect your authentic voice, assess social media risks, and teach you how to build a community.
In this first of these in posts, Virginie and Roxanne will give an overview of the many considerations for being authentic, preparing for fraught issues, and how to respond in the moment.
Article 2 will go in-depth on how you can perform your risk assessment and article three will explore how to build your online tribe — one of the strongest (and most fun) preventive measures you can take.
Your Authentic Voice
Though we are encouraged to speak our truths and offer original and innovative ideas, it’s also true that sharing one different viewpoint is enough to start a storm, unleashing a tide of negative reactions.
Brands have learned fast by watching many social media crises; most organizations are now protected with a well-thought-out and prepared social media crisis plan.
If your organization is lacking a social media crisis plan, please contact AcornOak immediately.
However, in the age of personal influence, far fewer individuals are prepared to handle the unfortunate turn of events which can also have devastating consequences for your business.
Prevention is the secret here: writing a social media crisis plan is the first step in protecting your authentic voice.
How To Create Your Social Media Crisis Plan
We’ve created a four-step process for a comprehensive plan:
Step 1: Perform your Risk Assessment
Step 2: Identify Trolls and Bots
Step 3: Build Your Tribe of Fans and Followers
Step 4: Create an Action Plan
Step 1: Perform a Risk Assessment
Social media risks vary based on the type of channels used, the topics, and your own strengths and weaknesses. Start your risk assessment with the social platform you use most often and/or that you consider most critical to your personal and/or business success.
Take a moment to list the topics you like to engage about and assign each one a risk factor of 1 to 3. 1 is low risk, not likely to be problematic and 3 is high risk, topics that engage many hot opinions. Look at your list and decide where you want to spend your energy going forward.
Making your mark may entail offering an “unpopular opinion” as the memes go. You can do this effectively as long as you have adequate personal awareness. It may also mean choosing to keep some opinions to yourself, allowing you to focus on topics relevant to your customers and business partners.
To gauge your strengths and weaknesses, create your own personal SWOT assessment which includes Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats.
Writing out a one page statement of your strengths can provide a baseline to support yourself when you are feeling attacked or misunderstood. Be sure to include intangible personal qualities — how well you handle criticism; how much you enjoy engaging with strangers, and what can your technical and emotional supporters provide.
Understanding yourself and assessing your risks are important steps you can start exploring today.
Step 2: Identify Trolls and Bots
It’s important to learn to recognize them:
They have few followers and no real identity.
They retweet constantly and usually cover politics and controversial topics.
They bully, don’t listen and just want to be RIGHT.
They often share fake news and use fear/threats to make you delete your posts.
Beware: They sometimes take real fake identities with a website, etc.
This article from the Mozilla Foundation states that bots make up over half of all internet traffic. As individuals, we are at a disadvantage as we wait for the platforms themselves to deal more proactively.
Many bots serve a useful purpose: they are an automated way of sharing information one has opted in for. Others are malicious.
Trolls are accounts run by real humans, that is, they are not automated like bot accounts. When you see a username that has a long string of numbers (often seen on Twitter) or a bunch of special characters designed to grab attention (often seen on Instagram) you may be dealing with a troll and/or a bot. Especially if the account does not have a profile photo, consider avoiding or ignoring these. And, just like that old New Yorker cartoon reminds us, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” a profile photo is not a guarantee.
TAKE-AWAYS: Review the accounts you follow.
If you’re having an issue with what you believe to be bots or trolls, look at their account pages and feel free to mute, block, and/or report these accounts. The internet is an ecosystem and we are all able to help make it a safer place.
On Twitter, follow the account @botsentinel. It is a bot account itself, but it tracks the malicious bots and helps keep our community safer. You may want to donate to them, too.
Step 3: Build Your Tribe of Fans and Followers
Having unique viewpoints is often the “value add” to a conversation, by getting out of the typical thought boxes and sharing your unique insights. This is easier to do if you have first cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, respectful, and open-minded person.
1- Start with friends
Depending on the size and nature of your business, you may want to set up an informal circle of friends and supporters in addition to the general fan base. You can help each other monitor what’s going on. This can involve empowering them with things such as your key messaging, and even an occasional perk as a thank you for being a member of the community. Your tribe can often respond for you, offering powerful endorsements and clarifying when someone else has misconstrued one of your statements.
2- Define your tribe
The bulk number of followers you have is not a guarantee of much. So here’s some improved math: Your Tribe = Followers Who Engage and Care.
3- Train your tribe well
Just beware that your tribe doesn’t turn into a mob. As your fan base grows, you have less control over them. So as you start, be sure to embed strong values in your brand and your fan base, so you are attracting the kind of people and mindsets who are in sync with you.
4- Give them your love and attention and they will return it to you
Not all complaints and rages on social media are equal. It’s essential to be able to distinguish the level of seriousness to the issue. You don’t address a Boeing 737 Max safety failure the same as you do an employee arriving late to open the shop. We all make mistakes yet how we handle them has a powerful effect on the way they are amplified (or not) on social media.
5- Pay attention to their insights.
Most small businesses do not have the budget for the type of market research that your social media followers can provide, for free. If you can learn not to take the complaints personally, you are ready to address the problem with your strongest, most conscious skills.
In most cases, the problems will be small and manageable. Using self-deprecation and some humor can go a long way in letting your audience know you see the problem, you are handling it, and you hope for their understanding. Energetically, this is like taking them from being adversarial to being on your team. Make your explanation relatable. Add light-heartedness to help relieve their stress. Many people experience anxiety merely by reading about other people’s problems on social media, even if they are not personally affected. We call this “Problems by Proxy” and it’s one of the more harmful effects of using social media. Taking responsibility when appropriate, using humor and humility, and helping others understand the scope of the problem, all add to a consciousness-raising side benefit.
What if it’s a really serious issue? This is the time to call in support. If you don’t have anyone in your inner circle who has professional experience in communication and social media, we think it’s essential to get help.
Many small business people are juggling so many hats; training in HR and messaging are often not in the mix as we rely on our native skills. Some are better than others. You may be brilliant at building your custom widgets but if you’re not trained in social tools and communication (and especially if your temperament is on the hot end of the spectrum) it makes little sense to face a crisis alone.
Step 4: Create an Action Plan
What do you do when a social media crisis occurs?
Here are the elements to keep in mind. Take this as a starting point and create your own plan. Then, share it with your team and review it monthly!
In some cases, you may not have all the information you need, so start with something like, “We’ve heard you and are working on this. Thank you for letting us know. We will respond shortly (give a specific timeframe if you can, reliably) and we appreciate your patience.”
Notice we didn’t say “apologize.” Apologizing for some things can open you up to legal liabilities that otherwise are not your responsibility.
This takes some practice; consider including some templated messaging in your crisis plan so you don’t have to think on the spot. Things like, “We got it! And we are working on it. Thank you for alerting us.” Or, “This does not sound like our normal practice. We’d like to gather some more information on this. Where can we reach you?” Or “Please DM us with your information so we can figure this out.”
Some people include a contact tip in their profile, so people can easily and quickly contact you.
Stand by your principles.
Here are a few quotes that we hope will empower you:
"Circumstances do not make a man, they reveal him." Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." Anne Frank
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle." Plato
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved." Helen Keller
"The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do." Jon Holt
Connect with your community.
Ask people you know well to support you but don’t ask others to fight your battles for you. Friends and customers who love and support you can add additional specifics in many cases and may be able to persuade a critic to soften their stance. But at the end of the day, this matter is yours to manage.
Focus on the facts.
Try not to be overly emotional or use hyperbolic language. Be succinct. Stop when you’ve got a win. If you personally need to process or deconstruct this more, do it offline with a trusted friend or partner.
Consider a hashtag.
Creating a hashtag to address the situation can be an effective way to rally the online conversation to you and your messaging. It can also help YOU track what others are saying. People love using hashtags — it helps form the bones of a community. It’s also really valuable in discovering things that might not have shown in your own feeds. Keep in mind, it can also help your detractors find and interfere with your messaging.
Depending on the size and nature of the crisis, it may take time to recover and rebuild. Prevention is your best friend; patience is your daily practice.
Handling a social media crisis is similar to handling any crisis you or your business may face:
Planning ahead is your best friend.
Put in place talking points and tools that others can use at a moment’s notice.
Keep your tribe not just for sales but for safety, too.
Embed your values clearly and succinctly in your messaging, day in and day out.
Speak up if your tribe is not representing you and your values.
Cultivate your own stress management and mindfulness skills so your neurons are ready and able to support you in a crisis.