We’ve all been there. Sitting at the dinner table on Thanksgiving when someone broaches one of the proclaimed off-limit topics: politics, religion, or money. The room falls quiet until two cousins begin to hurl angry and heavily biased opinions at each other across the sweet potato casserole.
This type of dialogue doesn’t only pollute holidays, birthdays, family reunions, or the office Christmas party. It happens daily across social media platforms and in every crack and crevice of the Internet. When big cultural moments happen, an explosion of opinions erupts from thousands of usernames. Communications professionals help clients successfully navigate online conversations like these every day. We counsel on when and how to engage. I wonder, though, do we professionals ever stop and look at our own online activity? Is our content as eloquent and educated as the statements we craft for clients?
As communicators, it should be a professional and personal goal to use the power of social media platforms for good … to be smart, helpful, and honest; to cut through the clutter of angry rhetoric; to provide thought-provoking and well-rounded opinions on the topics that matter.
We should shift focus onto understanding the background of the person on the other side of the ideological divide and why their opinion may differ from your own. If you struggle with being drawn into online vitriol, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Take your time. Social media is instant, but you don’t need to be. Take time to craft your content around important topics as if you were writing for someone else. Think, write, rewrite, proof, then post.
- Check your sources. The Internet is full of fake news and conspiracies (it could be where that uncle got his facts). Read about the topic from multiple sources, from different areas of the country, or if applicable, from the international community. Make sure your opinion is well-rounded, based on the full picture of information and facts.
- Cut through the clutter. If you decide to join the conversation, provide a unique take. Encourage others to stop and think as well. Remember—curiosity encourages education, and education leads to understanding.
- Be prepared for backlash. No matter what you write, and how unbiased your post might be, you will tick someone off. That’s okay. Take the high road and avoid engaging in irrational, tit-for-tat social media behavior.
Gift yourself with the same communication tools we gift our clients. Practice what we preach, and continue to share ideas, Tweets, or Instagram posts worth talking about.