Social Media and its False Perception
Invariably the first thing that our clients and potential new clients ask us when they first call is, “how do we use social media to mitigate our issue?” Or they come to us panicked because a few troubling users on Twitter are constantly posting about their issue, which they believe is akin to the villagers outside their homes with torches and pitchforks.
While I am not discounting the impact social media can have on a communications strategy and can further push a company into what our esteemed CEO Eric Dezenhall terms the “fiasco vortex” – a description of a crisis that continues to spiral out of control bringing in new adversaries along the way – I believe there are some misconceptions to address as it relates to social media and Twitter in particular. In keeping with the ethos of this newsletter and its focus on the way we get information and deal with potential misinformation, I thought it would be valuable to take a closer look at this platform that causes so much corporate heartburn.
This topic is also explored in more detail in the newly reissued version of Eric’s book, Glass Jaw.
If you log onto Twitter on any given day, the top trending stories will be a hodgepodge of different cultural events, with a few personalized recommendations that the algorithm has determined you will like – unless this particular day happens to be the day after the Oscars and the infamous slap. Understandably when one of our client’s issues gets anywhere close to that list, or they begin to see any mention of their company on Twitter, the reflex to extrapolate that out to the general public is swift.
However, if you look closely at the frequent users and those that actively post on Twitter, you will see that it does not even remotely reflect the real world. Setting aside Elon Musk’s claims about Twitter being overrun by bots, an analysis of who is driving these conversations is essential when diagnosing these scenarios for our clients.
Pew Research just recently released some insightful information about who these folks are, more specifically Twitter, that further illustrates the title of this post. First, let’s start with what I view as the most significant data point they found – A minority of Twitter users produce the vast majority of tweets. Among U.S. adults who use Twitter, the top 25% of users by tweet volume produce 97% of all tweets, while the bottom 75% of users produce just 3%, according to an analysis conducted over three months in 2021. So that massive mob that you think is coming after you on social media is just a few influential voices that are perceived as much louder than they actually are.
Additionally, Pew found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to use Twitter. Around a third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (32%) report using Twitter, 15 percentage points more than the share of Republicans and Republican leaners who say the same (17%). Another vital aspect of any crisis plan must include understanding who your key constituency is. If your audience and potential allies do not align with the demographic and political make-up of the platform you are using, this tactic will not have the desired impact and may also provide more ammunition to your opposition.
Now I am not saying that social media and Twitter, more specifically, should just be ignored. Those top 25% of users tend to be the reporters covering the big stories of the day, so the Twitter conversation has now become the mainstream media’s assignment editor as these reporters compete to out scoop each other with big, bold BREAKING text. Accordingly, situational awareness of what a majority of these users are interested in and reporting on provides insight into who might be receptive to a specific pitch or if your pitch would be better received at a different time. I also recognize the fact that these social media websites can be a great place where allies can share helpful content, companies can pressure test specific messages and communicators can attempt to provide a balance to the mainstream media. But social media engagement is just one of many useful tactics in the ever-growing digital strategy toolkit.
But like any crisis, companies must have an understanding that any deliberate attack on them is made to cause an additional overreaction to keep that issue relevant in both the traditional and social media space. Accordingly, “doing social media” and understanding where your message will resonate and where it will not is vital to escape the vortex.
As a communicator, you must meet your audience where they are, that might be prime time network TV, the local/regional newspaper or even an industry-specific newsletter. However, a blanket “do social media” strategy ends up beefing up consultants’ budgets to pay for fancy PowerPoints about metrics and engagement that do not advance your goals.