Managing Phony Issues & Conflict on Social Media

Managing Phony Issues & Conflict on Social Media

Managing Phony Issues & Conflict on Social Media

During Clinic #96 on “Protect Your Work from Citizen Anger (and Politics!)”, we outlined how to prevent being end-run by your projects’ opponents.

More importantly, how to see end-runs as a symptom of a problem — rather than the problem itself.

If minimizing pseudo-input is key, what can professionals do about the massive amounts of phony issues being slung all over Social Media?

This is worth a whole webinar of its own! (In fact, it will be the crux of the Clinic #99.)

There is SO much mis-information on the Internet, much of which your public cannot decipher from facts related to your work —  don’t think you’re going to combat that volume of content.

But you can get pretty close!

What you can do, is take note. A lot of notes actually.

Keep a running list of what pseudo-issues are being shared on Social Media.

Use Social Media as a listening device — even if most of what you’re hearing is garbage.

Try to identify who is generating and perpetuating these issues. (Not publicly, but for your own understanding of what communication lapses your team isn’t already aware of.)

If fake issues circulating (about your project) are getting ANY traction on the web, you need to know it!

You can’t possibly address these phony issues, and help the public see them as “pseudo-input” if you aren’t even aware of them.

Use Social Media, to deepen your understanding of the whole ecosystem of phony issues, mis-information, or misunderstandings and the people who promote them.

Even though these issues are misleading for stakeholders, and qualify as “pseudo-input”, you have to publicly identify each issue as such before soliciting for real input.

If an online user says “No, don’t do it!” — that isn’t input unless you:

  • – Didn’t anticipate that reaction from anyone.
  • – Expected to hear that from other stakeholders, but not THAT stakeholder.
  • – Had no idea this person, group, or sister agency saw themselves affected by your project.

If that’s the case, then that’s a symptom that you also need to have a better handle on who your PAIs (Potentially Affected Interests) are, and how they see your organization and Mission (Clinic #95)… As well as what pseudo-issues they are conflating with bona fide issues.

Granted, scanning Social Media and online outlets for phony issues isn’t exactly fun, nor where your expertise is…

However, once you demonstrate that you have a complete handle on nearly all the pseudo-input out there, have adequate responses to each, you’ll help clarify what is real input, and what is pseudo-input, for the rest of the public.

Do that, and you’ll have made some serious progress!


Learn more about:

  • – preventing pseudo-input,
  • – dealing with stakeholder emotions, and of course
  • – how to keep politics from interfering with your effectiveness

by selecting from nearly 100 topics in our Clinic Library.

Managing Phony Issues & Conflict on Social Media

Public Sector Officials: How To Combat Online Negativity and Social Media Trolls

Being attacked is never easy… For many public-sector professionals, it never stops either.

Some members of the public act like making negative comments and online attacks on public officials is a sport.

And as anti-government attitudes heat up, so do the hateful social media posts toward public professionals. So how are you supposed to respond? Here are a couple of tips.

(Note, for our full Consent Building eBook on the topic, click here)…


1. Leverage Negative Comments to Better Inform Your Opponents

Start by assuming the inflammatory or hateful comments have been made by an actual person, with legitimate concerns about your agency, and the projects you’re working on.

2. Resist getting emotionally sucked in — publicly or privately.

Think of an attack as a hook dangling online… Don’t bite! Expect what you say privately in response to online attacks to be made public anytime someone Googles your name, agency, or project (including texts, emails, and comments made within the confines of your office space).

Don’t wait too long, but gather your thoughts (and cool) before responding.

3. Never ignore or disregard negative comments.


See each of these as a chance to make progress on the issues being aired, the misunderstandings that linger, and your overall credibility. To the “silent majority” watching from the sidelines, if you don’t respond to attacks you look tone-deaf, and conveniently inclined to only acknowledge the positive, or more tempered comments regarding your work.

People who didn’t necessarily question your work or motives,start to wonder if you’re online presence is purely self-serving. Responding only to the to level-headed and complimentary comments actually creates cynicism where it didn’t necessarily exist before.

Even though it’s natural to want to ignore the negative and most extreme comments, doing so will actually hurt your credibility among the broader community.

4. Establish the ground rules ahead of time by creating sensible Terms of Use.

Protect your agency and community of online commenters by creating a Terms of Use that is easily located on your website. It must be reasonable in scope, linked to often (when new users join the conversation, or people are on the verge of breaching the terms).

Also, be absolutely sure your team consistently enforced these Terms of use and updates them when necessary (not just when to your advantage). Then, publicly discuss your site’s Terms of Use, why you’ve created them, what they entail, and why it’s reasonable to expect commenters to adhere to the terms.

For more the full list of tips, please download our free Consent-Building eBook on this topic. Click here!

3 Ways Your Public Organization Can Use Social Media Effectively To Build Consent

3 Ways Your Public Organization Can Use Social Media Effectively To Build Consent

How Public Agencies Need to Use Social Media to Get Respect, Not Hatred.

It can sometimes seem like Social Media is just one more facet for the public to dump on you and your team. Attacks at public meetings have never been pretty, yet what is often said online can make those meetings look like a love-fest by comparison!

Understandably, many public professionals shy away from posting anything to social media platforms as a result. The thing you need to remember is this… Social Media is just a tool! If you use it for its strengths, you can actually develop respect, credibility and appreciation… instead of more hatred.

1. Why Using Social Media for “Branding” is a Mistake in the Public-Sector

It’s tempting to look at how online “brands” create a Social Media presence and try to use it as a template for your organization. The problem is, you’re not like the mega-corporations and individuals using it to create or build a brand. Branding is a self-serving endeavor. Companies need to do it to set themselves apart.

Public agencies not only lack a brand, the professionals running them would be ill-advised to try to create a “brand”, when their only purpose is to serve the public.

Remember, it’s not as if the public can choose which U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Transportation, or local Department of Public Works they prefer over another. Those are the agencies here to serve all of us– like them or not. That’s why “branding” has no place in the public-sector’s use of Social Media.

2. What’s Posted Isn’t What Makes It Viral

You know not every cat or kid video goes viral, but do you know why?

Why did a video of woman in her car wearing a Chewbacca mask get millions of views, and the next one didn’t?

Not every salacious, witty, or insightful comment “trends” on Twitter, so what’s the common thread?

It’s not Google’s algorithm, some clever use of site SEO, or even the intention of the person who created the post.

As discussed in a past webinar on using Social Media, it’s not the post itself that makes the content go viral… The virility comes from what it elicits: emotion.

3. Leverage Viral Power for Your Team

Chances are, you already have an agency/project Facebook page, Twitter feed, or website (perhaps even several). So how do you tie the two (above) revelations together to put them to use for your team?

One way is to harness the virility of emotion. Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to elicit just any old emotion, (especially when hatred tends to flow freely these days!).

As the anti-government climate heats up, you certainly don’t want to evoke more anger, more frustration, or more hatred towards you, your team, or your proposals. (Using Social Media as a branding tool in the public-sector is likely to do just this!)

Something makes you get out of your comfy bed every morning and go to work. That same “thing” compels you to spend countless hours away from your home, your family, your hobbies.

Don’t tell me it’s for money.

Working in the public-sector is not going to make you rich. Yet here you are, dedicating your life to this work. Why?

Get to the essence of that “why” and use it as your guide in every Tweet, Facebook post, and video you upload.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking emotions have no place in public-sector work. You’re dead wrong if you do. Because like it or not– your work is steeped in emotion.

Emotions show up at your public hearings, Letters to the Editor, and the pages of every anti-government group online.

Using the same “why” that gets you out of bed every day to communicate out to your public through Social Media is the key.

You’ll know you have it right when the emotions you elicit will come with comments like “Thank God you’re there!” “Thank goodness you are willing to do this work!”

In two recent webinars, we covered this and much more (including: how to deal with Social Media mistakes, build your credibility online, and a 4-step recipe for each and every post):

#82: Anti-Government Groups – Using Social Media in Public-Sector (Why You Should Give a Twit!)

#75: Cracking the Code to Digital Engagement

We are here to help you get that “Thank Goodness You’re There” reaction from your public not just once in a while, but all the time.

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Social Media: A Tool or Weapon for Informed Consent Building?

Social Media is so much more than a high-tech medium.
But you already knew that, right?

It’s what we call, a “Meta Consent-Building Tool”.

IF (big IF!) you know how to use it, it can do SO much for your effectiveness, credibility, and legitimacy.

Of course, it could just as easily ruin you.

That’s the thing, it’s a great tool, or a weapon — depending on HOW and WHO is using it!

This webinar is geared JUST FOR YOU — if you ever ask yourself:

    • Should we use Social Media? Or will it just put a big target on our back?!?
    • How the heck do we know what to post?
    • What are the risks for a public-sector organization like ours (and/or our clients)?
    • Is there a recipe we can follow when using Social Media?
    • What if someone is using Social Media to spread rumors and misinformation?
    • How do we get the public to engage with us in a meaningful way?
    • What can we do when someone post their opinions as “facts”?

Even if you aren’t ready to get our Guide to Cracking the Code on Digital Engagement & Social Media, you can still download our FREE 7-Point Social Media Checklist.

  • These tools were designed with YOU and your public-sector mission (and critics) in mind.

Why Your Website Needs a Makeover to improve informed consent

We’re often asked: “How should we use our agency’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed . . . to engage with our public?” 

It’s a great question. (One that you won’t find answers for, even if you Google your heart out trying.)

You’re not an employee in a business — so going after “leads” and “conversions” doesn’t translate well into the mission the public gave you.

Yet, your public expects you to have an online presence….!

But how do you do it?!?

Rightly so, you’re probably concerned about:

  • Staff hours spent generating and monitoring Social Media platforms
  • The risk of posts taking on a life of their own and backfiring on the organization
  • Giving the impression everything is up for popularity vote
  • Only scratching the surface on complex projects, and as a result — creating false impression of the key issues
  • Technology and Terms of Use for 3rd Party Platforms change frequently
  • What constitutes “engagement?”  Is it a legitimate objective?
  • What’s the best way to reach our public?
  • “Do people even look at our website anymore?!?”


We’ll answer these questions, your specific questions — and more — in our monthly Consent-Building Clinic.


During Clinic #74, we’re going to show you:

  • How VITAL your agency’s website is,
  • Why we can virtually guarantee you’re FAILING to use it to inform your public,
  • and Why you’re priorities are all WRONG.

Then, even though we only have 45-minutes with you, we’re going to really shake things up!

Because we’ve got advice that is loaded with value on how to turn your website into a Consent-Building powerhouse.


Don’t miss the BONUS video below on “Adding some Kryptonite for Your Opponents on Your Website”


Follow these tips and not only will you generate trust, respect, credibility and legitimacy.

Even your work’s fiercest opponents will conclude you’re committed to being fair and transparent (assuming you are!).

Get the Recording