It can be so easy to write off angry people commenting online or at a town hall community consultation with “these people don’t represent the majority.”
We honestly see it all the time, all around the country: good-intentioned organisations invest in seeking feedback but are overwhelmed by negative, aggressive, or just impractical responses.
So what do these good-intentioned folk do?
They go back to prepared statements, turn off their Forums, stop paying attention, hope that the problem runs out of steam.
The average community engagement professional
These are all perfectly understandable responses.
But for community engagement professionals, they are also counter-productive.
Your community will either fight (take the issue to media and/or legal channels) or flight (disengage completely).
These situations are opportunities for outrage management. After all, if the concerns of these “vocal locals” align with current trends, it will not take very long for their issues to become wider community or even societal concerns. So why sweep them under the rug?
It only takes 1 person to define and shape community attitude. Think of how the feminist movement started, or the environmental movement, or indeed the election of a United States President (not just this one but the previous one too). An individual or special interest can become a public interest incredibly quick.
Let’s focus on what we can do to stay on top of issues that others find worthy of a rant:
“Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”
Every communication you have is another chance to change how you and the work you do is understood. Even if your last response only emboldened the keyboard warriors, you always get another chance to share an important message in a way that could be better received.
- Start with the Influencers to help you drive your message
Traditionally, we relied on mass media communications and public relations to communicate important messages to the general public, but in a hyper-connected, information-rich world, you must focus on the people who closest to you who are highly-involved in the issues of the day in order to influence the rest.
Traditional PR vs Outrage Management in 2017 - Image Source: FutureEye Pty Ltd
This means starting with the highly involved and highly connected people first. Sure it might take up more of your time, but bringing these people on board before the rest means you could be setting yourself up for a much easier job with the general public down the track.
Make sure you have the right mindset and tools in place to listen and engage with highly involved people in a meaningful way. Do it before the issue is outside of your control.
For more information on different kinds of engagement, see our post on an engagement that won the Core Values 2012 NZ Project of the Year following the Christchurch Earthquake.