Ben Lowndes #viewsoncomms

A perspective on PR, development and life in the South West

New year, new hopes and engagement approaches

This Christmas was a good moment to reflect on what happened in 2017 and make plans for the year ahead.

Unusually for us, we haven’t travelled beyond Bristol this Christmas. Spending the festive break in Somerset provided an opportunity to really think about these things, as well as spend time with family and friends.

The last 12 months have been a hell of a time for me; memorable, challenging and exciting. It was a bit stop-start, with the snap general election disrupting projects whilst providing a new level of uncertainty for a government already absorbed by Brexit. Anyone remember ‘strong and stable’? It didn’t go well when the PM visited the South West and was a new low point for drab, one-way political campaigning in this country. It all feels like a different era now.

Since then, I moved jobs towards the end of last year (more news on this will follow in a few weeks) and have focused on building a new agency presence in the South West. Although I’m not one for making predictions about what this year will hold for the PR industry, I’m pretty certain that it will be an exciting time.

New year, new challenges

One thing that became more glaring in 2017 was how social media was becoming more of a platform for, well, anti-social behaviour. It has been said that this was the year that tools like Twitter and Facebook lost their lustre. For me, it was the year that Twitter became more of a slog.

I’ve written before about how social media, for all its promise and sophistication, was becoming an echo chamber where broadcast soundbites and efforts ‘get messages trending’ were drowning out conversation. Add to this more sinister trolling, bots and anonymous hecklers and it’s easy to see why many feel that Twitter has become a tawdry territory where the loudest, most controversial voices are everywhere (I’m not going to name them here, but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about).

I’ve been thinking about how this will shape my work in the coming year. I still find Twitter useful for connecting with industry contacts and tracking what’s going on in the news and in my sector. But I’m adapting my approach to address some of these changes.

Here are some small tweaks I’m looking at. It would be great to hear your views on these and other issues, along with any thoughts on how you intend to address them.

No name, no game: I’ve been getting more snarky comments from people who don’t have a normal name, profile or picture that would identify them. I’ve realised that this has happened at a time when my posts have become more political, which could be playing a role. That said, I’ve no doubt that some users are emboldened to say nasty things in ways that they wouldn’t if their identity was known. I’ve got it easy though, as there are plenty of women and minority groups who have this problem more than I do. When this happens, I’ll respond once and ask them to identify themselves. If they don’t, I’ll block them.

#Botspot: The increase in fake accounts (bots) who spread false content and even attack elected representatives is pernicious. It presents a challenge for communicators, who need to understand how this may affect their work. As a starting point, organisations should check if their digital policies enable them to respond effectively to posts from anonymous and fake accounts. If you don’t have a policy in place, make it a priority to get one and ask your leadership to back it. For those who wish to find out more about this, the work of Ben Nimmo is timely and invaluable.

And is anyone experiencing this? 

Will be off-putting for new users. I hope Twitter can tackle it.

Local online (unchecked) activism: Where critics of a proposed development or local authority once turned to their local newspaper, now they’re more likely to go online to express their opposition. Local media often picks up news of opposition from a Facebook campaign or website, which often contains claims which are unchecked and inaccurate. Dan Slee described this as ‘fake news at the parish pump,’ which is a great term. Comms people have been dealing with it for years before Donald Trump bastardised the phrase. Comms planning needs to take account of these groups and local influencers in 2018.

Be social, don’t just ‘do’ social

Despite those risks, those who are prepared to invest the effort in social engagement will still find it is an important part of the comms make-up.

Doing it ‘the right way’ involves the things that good comms pros do. Understanding your audiences, listening and responding to feedback and posting good content online (as opposed to any old crap) are sound blocks on which to build. If you can train operational colleagues to use the tools confidently and openly and have robust processes in place for responding to feedback, even better.

I’m looking forward to 2018. For now, I’m off for some time with the family. Whatever you get up to in 2018, I hope it’s a good one for you.

Featured image photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash.


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