Blog Post: How Public Affairs Professionals Should Respond To Uncertainty About Social Media Platforms￼December 20, 2022 | Blog Post
Over the last decade, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become increasingly influential in shaping the debate around politics and public policy. Professionals in the public affairs industry rely on these channels to add their perspectives to the narrative and reach both decision makers and stakeholders.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has meant layoffs, lively discussions about changes to the platform, and a spike in interest in migration to platforms like Mastodon. TikTok remains under scrutiny by regulators due to national security and privacy concerns. Governors in at least eight states have banned the platform and lawmakers in Washington have introduced a bill to ban the platform. Facebook continues to shift from news and politics as it eyes the Metaverse. Every platform has varying policies about advertising around public policy issues that change with little rhyme or reason.
With the future of crucial social media platforms in doubt and their policies towards public affairs and politics, what is the right strategy for the industry as it balances the power of the platforms and the uncertainty of their status?
How should brands public affairs respond?
Clearly Articulate Your Goals For Social Media Engagement
Answering the question “Why are we using social media?” with a specific, credible reason is a prerequisite to being effective. Yes, social media platforms give you a space to publish and distribute content online, but the same can be said of your corporate website. The benefit of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are the network effects they provide in reaching significant audiences at scale.
Merely maintaining a presence on social media may be the extent of your strategy, but if your goals extend beyond that, having clearly articulated outcomes and ways to measure them are essential. This should shift your mindset from something akin to “We have 5,000 followers on Twitter” to “Engagement on Twitter ensures our digital content reaches our key audiences.”
Go All-In On Owned Audiences
Your organization’s social media platforms are, in reality, shared with the companies that host them. You have some control over content, but the social media companies determine how widely it is distributed and you cannot take the underlying data about who your followers are with you.
Effective digital marketing efforts are rooted in the idea of building and nurturing owned audiences. This means investing in your own email lists, web properties, and other channels that you control. These should be the primary sources for distributing news, content, and messages to your stakeholders.
This does not mean abandoning social media altogether; rather it is a shift in emphasis. Social media should build up your owned audiences. Always have “one foot out of the door” in the event that a social media company goes away or their policies disrupt your strategy.
Create Your Own Social Space
It’s easier than ever to maintain your own social media community with platforms like Discourse and Discord. With these applications you can establish forums for members, employees, and other stakeholders to stay up to date on the issues that matter to them.
By adding a social layer like chats, replies, and direct messages, your internal social platforms can become organizing hubs for additional activity – the network effects seen elsewhere.
Identify And Partner With Creators And Influencers
Your target audience is fragmented across multiple social networks and maintaining a presence on all of them is neither effective nor practical. Now, you have to factor in the risk and controversy of a social network as well. So how do you ensure that your perspective is still seen and your content still reaches these audiences?
Partner with content creators and influencers who already have audiences and reach on social networks to distribute your content and communicate with their followers. They’ve done the hard work of building up a community and have the trust of their fans. Your relationship with content creators and influencers should be an equal partnership because they know what will work and what won’t.
Tap Into Your Members’ and Employees’ Networks
Similarly, your members and employees are also active on their own social media platforms and are influential to their networks. But they may not feel confident or safe speaking about your issues. Give them the confidence they need with approved, timely, and relevant messages they can share. Again, trust is a key factor and you are handing some level of control over, but it’s a tradeoff worth making.
Public affairs professionals have been struggling with the changes in social media over the last few years. The upheavals with Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have caused many to re-think their strategies. However, by clearly articulating your goals for social media engagement, going all-in on owned audiences and creating your own social space, you can navigate these changes and continue to be effective in reaching your stakeholders.
Eric Wilson is a Senior Vice President at Bullpen Strategy Group. He leads the Bullpen Technology Group and advises clients on digital marketing.