Yes, I can be accused of being old school. Actually, I’m proud of it. But I’m going to boldly (though reluctantly), acknowledge that there’s a new sheriff in town. I do this with one caveat: There’s enough room at the top for the ways of both the old school and the new school, and each are equally important in order to achieve success.
I’m only beginning to understand the true power of the social media in terms of its opportunity – but oddly and, perhaps, crucially – I believe I’m learning its power based on the lessons of how others who are in opposition to my beliefs are using it and winning. The shear power and influence of the social media can be your best friend – or your worst enemy. In this day and age, mastering the social media and creating optimal messaging – is your only choice.
The far-reaching influence of social media has the power to frame an issue and win in the court of public opinion – well before many even recognize there is a threat. This is significant and dangerous.
We tend to think of lobbying as a way to communicate with lawmakers (very true, but incomplete). Lobbying has taken on a new dynamic – efficient and effective ways to lobby “the people.” Though influencing “the people” isn’t anything new, social media is the way to absolutely and effectively engage “the people” like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s critical to influence lawmakers, but just as critical to influence those who elect them.
“Here in Texas, we are proactively designing our social media structure to not merely respond to issues, but to get ahead of issues,” says Alicia Dover, executive director of the Plumbing-Heating-Contractors of Texas. “Our advocacy efforts will involve traditional forms of lobbying and the new forms of lobbying so as to capture and influence public opinion with social media.”
When it comes to any and all forms of human interaction, professional engagement or business dealings, I like face-to-face discussions, meetings, negotiations, conversations or arguments. Whether in a room with a client, the board of directors or at a Thanksgiving table, I want to see how people react. I want to see their facial expressions, how long they pause, which way they roll their eyes, how long they smile or if they hesitate before answering a question. I want to read their body language. Whether they react or not, tells me something (and in some cases, can give the store away).
I’ve always believed and I am supremely confident that the key to advocacy/lobbying/government relations is to build relationships with lawmakers. To engage and tell your story. There’s no magic or rocket science to it. It’s pretty simple and pretty straightforward. It’s not hard to do. It doesn’t take much time or energy. And there is always a return on your investment.
“It’s all about relationships” is the gospel and I continue to stand by it.
Social media tsunami
However, the social media tsunami is flowing through our society and sweeping along with it the vast universe of public opinion. It’s powerful and there’s no stopping it – and there’s no choice. Folks, times aren’t just changing, they’ve changed. If you want to play in the advocacy game, be taken seriously, have an impact and win in advocacy, then put on your social media big boy pants.
And here’s the clincher: A wise man once said, “Life goes by in a blink.” Well, when it comes to the speed and the influence of social media in the public opinion arena, don’t blink. You’ll lose if you’re up against others who understand it and know how to use it.
Here’s why: The issue/problem/conundrum that industries have when dealing with confrontational issues are the extremely short grace periods in terms of reaction.
When an emotionally charged issue arises and the public has been alerted, industry tends to set up a meeting in the boardroom to strategize, collect data and statistics and then design and develop a structure to respond.
But the time it takes industry to respond in that way is where the failure begins and ends. The day’s already been won. The game is over. The fat lady has sung and those who understand social media know how to get their emotional issue out to people and frame the issue – and eat industry’s lunch.