Many community concerns are emotional rather than rational, so dry arguments focussed solely on facts or legal technicalities will not work.
That’s not to say that facts aren’t important. It’s essential to be truthful: you never want to lie.
But it’s important to understand that emotional appeals are powerful as they speak to people’s deep-seated beliefs.
The problem with facts is that they might contradict what people already believe, so they shut down and stop listening.
When emotions are high, facts will not work
If a community feels aggrieved or threatened and emotions are running high, simply sticking to the facts will not work. Nor will appeals that you are following the rules.
Take this example. A mining company might have every legal right to be building a project in a particular location. However, the local community may object because of the perceived environmental impact and proximity of the project to local waterways. These concerns persist despite independent testing showing the project will not affect the river.
The mining company can’t simply state that they are following the rules and cite job creation from the project - that’s ignoring the community’s concerns.
Instead, it should acknowledge the community’s feelings and validate the concerns before explaining its position.
The message is more likely to resonate if the company first uses language that connects emotionally, and tells the community that you hear them.
‘We all agree that protecting the local waterways is an important priority.’, then demonstrate all of the ways you are addressing those concerns, before providing the facts.
Acknowledging community anxieties (rational or otherwise), addressing concerns head on and accepting responsibility for providing a solution are effective tactics for getting people to listen to your side of the story.
When emotions are high, you will never convince everyone
Too many companies fail to understand that you will never convince those who are already committed to a cause.
No amount of engagement, myth busting or fact checking will sway those who already believe they are right.
That’s not say that you shouldn’t be correcting misrepresentations in the media, or actively telling your story across as many online and offline channels as you can.
On the contrary, when activists have you in their sights you need to stand your ground and tell your side of the story.
Understand what emotional appeals or fears your opponents are exploiting and tailor your messages accordingly.
Understand that you aren’t trying to sway the ‘true believer’, but rather you are talking to the wider public, the decision makers and the politicians.
Addressing legitimate community concerns with goodwill and integrity will help to influence wider public opinion, counter negativity and motivate supporters.
Understand that social media is not reality, especially on Twitter
If you spend any time on social media, you might have a sense that humanity is locked in a state of perpetual outrage.
But it’s important to remember that social media is not reality, nor is it representative of wider public opinion.
A 2019 Pew Research Centre study found that U.S. adult Twitter users differ in significant ways from the overall U.S. adult population. Users are younger, more educated and more likely to be Democrats than the general public. Most Twitter users rarely tweet, but the most prolific 10 per cent create 80 per cent of tweets.
In the UK, the Hansard Society found that, among people who use social media for politics, Labour is over-represented relative to Conservatives, and Remainers relative to Leavers.
In Australia, Twitter's 5.3 million accounts make it a less popular platform than Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
While social media outrage mobs may be having an outsized influence on public discourse, understand this isn’t the full story.
Be prepared to stand your ground, tell your side of the story, and address legitimate concerns with goodwill and integrity.
The key to issues management is being prepared
Don't let a small issue become a big one and do real damage to your precious reputation.
At Elevate Communication, we can help you to identify and respond appropriately to emerging trends or issues that have the potential to disrupt or damage your business reputation. Get in touch with us at email@example.com today!