Social Media Is Like A Funhouse Mirror

If you’re lucky enough to have a job these days and it’s in communications, chances are you’re spending at least some conference calls or Zoom meetings analyzing social media posts like they are chemical particles for the awaited vaccine.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen an acceleration in sensitivity to what’s posted on social media platforms. Our society is angry and has a no-cost outrage outlet available to it at all times. Posts designed to draw attention get attention, but then what?

It feels like every few days, we’re counseling clients that looking at social media posts can be like looking in a funhouse mirror.

It’s easy for everything to be distorted. The persistent challenge is that a screen shot of post sent by a Twitter user with three followers looks exactly like a post retweeted by a user with 300,000 followers. Compounding matters, while Twitter, for example can be influential, it is by no means a mass communication tool. Twitter’s audience is a subset of the social media audience (roughly 10 percent of voters, by one example measure), which is a subset of our society.

Another case in point: Last week a piece of content we directed for a client campaign was shared enough on Twitter that it reached an audience of more than 4 million. At the same time, other related news items received relative hands full of favorites or retweets. Which will end up most valuable for the client? We may never know. It’s all about the campaign as a whole.

Facebook presents its own set of distortions. A few years ago, during a crisis, a board member of the client called me and said “We’re getting killed on social media. How come we’re not doing anything about it?” I let him know I’ve been following every day and the attention had been muted to just a trickle. Later, I found out he was shown screen shots from a private Facebook group, with about 100 members. To him, it looks like the entire internet was ablaze with negativity about this organization. The reality, though, was many miles from perception.

We’re working to help clients keep things in perspective. Nothing should be ignored. It’s all worth talking about and strategizing. But what may look like a rash of reputational damage may be something far different. So react, but don’t over-react. And don’t be afraid to get some outside perspective to put posts and reactions into the proper view.