10 social media lessons for corporates and activists #SMWsnog

10 social media lessons for corporates and activists #SMWsnog

So what can corporates and activists learn from each other and how can they interact most effectively in social media spaces? That’s what @markoneinfour and I wanted to find out at our Snog Marry Avoid? workshop during Social Media Week in London  on 28 September 2012.

To consider the question, we welcomed a mixed group of activists and corporates (and a few who fell into both camps) who engaged in a lively discussion and took part in a scenario which enabled us to tease out some of the issues. We particularly focused on the public sector, although many of the lessons may apply more broadly.

My main learning point from the day is that activists and public institutions often want the same thing. But if they fail to develop reciprocal relationships then their standpoints about how to get there can easily become polarised.  This is amplified when acted out in social media spaces.

So here are 10 social media lessons derived from our scenario where an activist group and public sector institution have a potential clash of interests online. Some points may have more resonance for one group over another, but we found that they generally applied to both:

  1. Clarity of purpose – be clear about what you want to achieve so you can employ the right tactics to help you get there. Sounds obvious but we found this was crucial in thinking strategically and avoiding getting stuck in a corner
  2. Act swiftly – respond to questions or concerns quickly, even if it is to say you’ll get some more information and update later. Letting comments hang around online without a response can be damaging
  3. Get your facts right – amplifying rumours can be damaging and cause distress to the people whose interests you are promoting
  4. Use existing relationships – use your existing relationships to engage wherever possible
  5. Be accountable – people want to engage with other people, not faceless accounts, so using your name can help create rapport. This is particularly important for corporate accounts which can appear anonymous
  6. Create stories – encourage people to begin online conversations and share stories about the issue you are concerned with. Using hashtags on Twitter enables people to find each other and get engaged in the topic even if they don’t follow each other
  7. Avoid stand-offs – invite a response from the other party and encourage them to get involved in the conversation. Keep the lines of communication open, clarify facts and empathise
  8. Put your hands up – apologise if you’re in the wrong – you’ll get more respect this way
  9. Unintended consequences – remember that once your message is out there, you can’t control what happens with it, so think through possible unintended consequence
  10. Engage your community – when people start using social media to talk about a topic, you have an instant engaged community. Recognise this as a positive and start interacting with them.

But when does a pragmatic approach become too close for comfort and potentially compromising? Activist organisations can be in the firing line if they take too pragmatic an approach and lose credibility with the people whose interests they are promoting. Developing relationships should not be at the expense of staying focused on the issue you are concerned with.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our workshop and shared their wisdom. It was a complete experiment and we had no idea what would emerge. I’d love to hear your views about how corporates and activists engage. If commenting on Twitter, you may want to use the hashtag #SMWsnog

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  1. Interesting post that raises a few questions for me.
    I am not so convinced that many corporates and activists ‘often want the same thing’. Not really, truly and deeply. Both are a mixed bunch with many different constituents, but in essence corporates wish to deliver products and services to people while meeting economic objectives. There may be some activists in the context of health who share this goal, but some will be pro one corporate (the NHS) while anti others (BUPA, Virgin) as matter of ideology. Others will form special interest groups around particular conditions or care pathways. Relationships between ‘activists’ and ‘corporates’ will always be dependent on specific contexts and agendas, but will more often be characterised by ‘antagonism’ than ‘alliance’.
    But, if your analysis is correct then we have a very interesting set of circumstances in building these relationships, characterised by low degrees of trust between activists and corporates, but shared goals. What Peter Block characterised as ‘Bedfellows’.

    • Thank you for your comments Mike. I was also surprised by the degree of consensus in our discussion and I wonder if this is because of the particular scenario we explored – which was basically an activist group lobbying to maintain an NHS service which was going to be reduced because of cost pressures. Participants on both sides took a pragmatic approach to keep the relationship and conversation going in order to achieve an outcome of continuing a services for people who use it. We were a mixed group, although mostly comprised of people who identified primarily as activists. I think there will often be separation and antagonism but that middle bit of the virtual venn diagram where interests overlap and potential for collaboration exists is an interesting one which I’m intrigued by.

  2. The exercise was a great way for the corporate health and third sector to find out that they share both the same goals, and the same techniques, but I would be interested to repeat this exercise by considering how corporate health and third sector bodies respond to “unaffiliated activists”.

    Statutory bodies and large charities/ representative bodies of people with health conditions have been roundly criticised by many activists on the ground, for failing to represent their views more accurately.

    Activists no longer rely on the corporate third sector to represent them. They are using social media to circumvent these traditional ways of having their views represented in favour of putting their personal narratives over, by internet self-publishing and getting their networks to amplify their stories in social media. The Spartacus Report and Responsible Reform report are two recent examples born from the frustration of the disabled community with the lack of accurate representation from disabled people’s charities, who remain complicit in aspects of current ablism in the political context.

    In essence, statutory health organisations and big third sector organisations have much more in common with each other than they do with the experiences of disabled people and activists. So, it would be great to look at this in depth sometime- sign me up for #smwsnog2!


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