Engagement, communication and responding in social media

Engagement.  The magic word that has led the vast majority of us turning to using social media.  We will often state first and foremost that the reason we are using so media is so that we can engage with our communities.  We want to open the lines of communication with the public.  Engaging with our communities, each other and the people beyond the borders of our jurisdiction is a real benefit of social media.  But how do we engage?  What does that actually mean?

Engage – to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons): He engaged her in conversation. (dictionary.com)

So how do we do all those very wonderful things?  How do we actually engage?  Simple, we communicate.  We talk, listen, listen, talk, clarify.  Communicate.

True communication requires both the sending and receiving of and understanding of that information.  This is the purpose of this post…responding to comments.  (Hid that pretty well didn’t I?)

Responding to comments can be time-consuming, frustrating and in the end get you no where at all.  On the other hand responding can also be quick, fulfilling and create new support, friendships, allies and respect from your community.

Do you have to respond to all comments and or mentions of your ID / brand?

NO, absolutely not.  Not a chance.  Can you imagine being the digital brand manager for Ford, Pepsi, Apple or Nike?  How many comments do they get per day on each of their social media accounts?  2, 3, 5 thousand?  They could not possibly respond to every comment.

How do you respond to accusations that are full of inflammatory comments, profanity and accusations that can’t be responded to without a bringing attention to something that truly doesn’t deserve it?  How do you respond to a comment that states an opinion which is providing you explicit sexual direction? (You might need to think about that for a second).  You can’t.

What about a comment that on its face you know right off is nothing more than a baiting question which is just going to be used to attack you.  Why would you take the bait and respond?  Remember one of the first rules of social media, “Don’t feed the trolls.

Look again at the example in the definition of engage. “He engaged her in conversation.”  Conversation; not fighting, not getting abused, not getting cornered, tricked or hijacked.  Conversation.  Even negative comments, criticism andcritique can lead to great engaged conversations which can accomplish the first part of the above definition; to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons).

So what do you respond to?  EVERYTHING YOU CAN!  You will have to balance everything you possibly can do decide on what those things are.

  • time
  • personnel
  • priorities
  • voice
  • influence
  • strategy
  • content
  • issues
  • experience
  • support

Those and more, will all have an influence on what you can, should and need to respond to.  There’s no rule book on this.  There is no right or wrong answer.  You’ll have to choose for yourself what you can do, what you’ll respond to, who you’ll respond to and when.

Crisis?  Emergency? Disaster? Think you’ll be able to reply to everyone and everything?  Not likely.  Not a chance.

Lynn Hightower of the Boise Police Department wrote a great post for the International Association of Chiefs of Police with one great tactic on how to deal with a crisis situation. Read it here.

If someone tells you that you have to respond to every comment, ask them when the last time they actually used social media was.

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About Tim Burrows

Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including, IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing and crisis communications.
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