Social Media – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

It has been a very interesting few weeks for me in regards to social media. It has reiterated to me the power that comes with using social media, and the choice that you, the media or a company has in using it.

You have a choice when you are scheduling that tweet or crafting that Facebook post on how you present your opinions or thoughts. Will you offer a factual account? Will you present both sides of the story? Will you address the feedback regardless if it is negative or positive? There is a lot of power that is given to us and it is your choice on how you use it.
Let me give you a few examples.

1. Vigilantism – lets just say I witnessed a pretty horrific incident a few weeks back and I took it upon myself to act. The incident I witnessed was wrong in so many ways and I was deeply disturbed by what I saw. I then took to social media to recount what I saw and to ask for assistance in tracking the wrongdoer down. The response was overwhelming and in most accounts very positive. However I was at one point accused of vigilantism and in a way this is partly true. I did allow my feelings and reaction to the situation to cloud my judgement, however there was more good that came out of the situation than I believe bad (again my opinion). People were connected that needed to be, certain issues were brought to light and I made sure to present both sides and the results of the social media action I took. Does this mean that some parties weren’t affected negatively? Absolutely not, and it is important to take that into account when you decide to act.

2. Media Accountability – recently a good friend and a great company has become the target of an ‘investigative report’ that is not founded on facts, nor is there an interest in the facts coming to light. The reporter has chosen to present what he feels is the truth and find interviewees that will back up his story angle versus actually getting all of the sides or understanding the real issue. My friend has tried on several instances to present the facts to this reporter, to line up sources that can speak to the other side of the issue and this has not been well-received. In fact, this reporter has shown up at the company’s office, an employee’s home and knocked on neighbor’s doors all in the name of ‘fact-finding’ and bringing the truth to light. Now, how does social media play a role? Well, an influential blogger brought the questionable tactics of this reporter to light and asked some very pointed questions such as – is your source a direct financial competitor of this company you are targeting? Have you interviewed other companies you feel are inappropriately taking advantage of the system put in place by the government? Have you interviewed the government who put this system in place for companies to utilize?

Several other people who got wind of this ‘reporting’ took to social media and posted on the news channels Facebook wall asking questions on the validity of this story. These posts were promptly removed, as this news station was not interested in hearing from the public (interesting approach) or being questioned, as it was clear they are going to do what they feel is right with no regard to the truth.
In this case, social media is getting an issue out there and is asking questions. If a side chooses to not present their angle or use social media for what it is intended for – an open forum to discuss and to engage your audience – then your story is not entirely accurate – is it?

3. National impact on a local organization  – I do not enjoy crisis communication, I am decent at it, but I get too emotionally involved and it saddens and angers me when good people suffer. I work with Susan G. Komen of West Michigan and it is a great organization making big strides to end breast cancer; however it is under contract to abide by decisions made by the national org. That doesn’t necessarily make those decisions right, or even understood by the local affiliate, but there is nothing that can be done about it.

All Komen West Michigan can do is be honest, respond to questions and queries and do their best to educate the public. I applaud the local affiliate for leaving Facebook posts up that question the organization and then taking the time to respond to those postings. They may not have all the answers, but they prepared a statement, explained that they also are working to find answers and have responded to phone calls, texts, media queries and social media.
So what does all of this teach us or I guess me in particular?

1. Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Research, question the mass consensus and then engage when you are well-informed.

2. Don’t let emotion be the sole driver of your social media engagement. It will always play a factor, we are after all human.

3. If you don’t understand an issue, reach out to those that are smarter than you. If it is a subject you are not well-versed in, then ask someone.

4. Run your response past someone. Get their thoughts, so you can be sure that you are being fair.
I love social media, I really do. I just want people to be aware that there are two sides to every story and you owe it to yourself, your fans, your followers to be educated and well-informed.

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