As we diversify our communications methods, we’re running into more audiences. I mean, we always used to do that when we were just blasting messages through the big, fat pipe of the mass media, but now the public has admitted that they have feelings and thoughts and preferences. And some of those preferences are counter to the message that we push out. We say things and they’ve been empowered through social media to talk back. To yell back. To “express their constitutional right passionately,” as a friend of mine once said.
In public health, there is a certain segment of the population who doesn’t like what we say. They feel that many of the things public health does encroaches on their rights. From lead remediation to asbestos remediation to fluoridation to vaccines to isolation and quarantine. The anti-vaccine folks tend to be the loudest right now due to a now-disgraced theory that some vaccines can cause autism, but our field has struggled with this type of thing for a while. And I’m sure that it’s pretty much the same story for most government agencies. Police, food safety, schools, hell, government itself, all of us have detractors.
And normally, I’m one to take on those folks head on. Proactive communication, I say. Government agencies should be advocates, I’ve said. But a recent article that Denise Graveline published about your fans:
It’s an approach that can help focus your efforts and your message, not to mention your budget and productivity. As Seth Godin points out, “Instead of working so hard to prove the skeptics wrong, it makes a lot more sense to delight the true believers. They deserve it, after all, and they’re the ones that are going to spread the word for you.”
Should we be actively engaging with those who denigrate us? (I mean, besides the obvious correction of incorrect facts.) Or should we be concentrating on our adoring fans?
The rationale for these questions and which one is more important is exactly the same and it has to do with the ease of viral messages today. We just have to figure out which is more important to us:
Are you more scared of a negative viral message than you are excited about a positive viral message?
We live in an austere world and we need to make real decisions about where we focus our efforts. Should we be playing defense against bad things that someone might say about us that catch social media wildfire and are repeated everywhere? If so, we need to work to minimize the nay-sayers and work to convert them. Or should we be playing offense and trying to seed as many good things in the hopes that some of them catch social media wildfire and are repeated everywhere? If so, we need to identify, groom and make sure that our supporters have everything they need.
This isn’t a decision you or I can make. This is something we as organizations need to make together. What does your executive want to do? Is your comms team set up for defense or public relations? And I don’t know which is better. If you would’ve asked me this question a few days ago, I have no idea what I would’ve said. But I wonder what you think now that I’ve phrased the question this way. I’d love to see your comments below!