From the political circus and shocking injustices south of the border to controversies closer to home, challenges and crises all over the world conjure up different attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. Then come the opinions on the issues. For every op-ed published and shared on social media there are four more responses touting a more “civilized” and “refined” point of view the next day. Our social media accounts have moved from sharing our photos with family and friends to boasting opinions on the latest news sensation.

The pitfalls of social media: speeches vs conversations
What I find disheartening are the notices I’ve been seeing of late that opposing points of view are not welcome in the comments of individuals’ posts. When did social media become only a tool for communicating with like-minded people? To me, this signals the breakdown of society. When people are not willing to have polite conversations about hot-topic issues with others, how are we ever to challenge our minds, our stands on the issues, or our behaviours? Even if we don’t change our minds, don’t such conversations make us better people? If we are not willing to engage with those on the other side of a topic, how do we expect unions to negotiate contracts? Mediators to settle cases outside of court? Children to learn to get along and play with others? Sadly, these posts are often from those who claim to believe in tolerance of others and who claim to be somewhat liberal in their thinking.

Notices to the effect of “I am comfortable with the posts on my own Facebook page and those who don’t agree need not comment” beg the question: why post the message at all? Social media tools with commenting and reaction features are intended to be used to engage with your audience. Are you making a speech or having a conversation? True, some posts are clearly announcements to followers or brand audiences, and sometimes we simply feel compelled to share our opinion on a topic, but if we expect others to read and consider our opinions, shouldn’t we do them the same courtesy and consider theirs?

[pullquote]Are you making a speech or having a conversation?[/pullquote]

Engaging social media for your business
In the business world, I also see social media tools being misused in this way. Some organizations or companies disable commenting features on blogs and other social media platforms in fear of negative or challenging comments. Others simply ignore comments and do not even respond to positive feedback, hoping that over time it will discourage others to engage in a conversation. But avoiding these opportunities to engage with one’s audience means you’re missing out on some great feedback, which you can use to make your product or service better or hone your marketing efforts. Sure, it might be scary, and you might have to hire someone to manage your social media accounts and respond to people, but truly engaging with social media lets your audience know that a) you’re not afraid, b) you want to get to know them, c) you value their feedback and will consider their needs, and d) you know how to use social media properly (ie, you’re professional and your posts are not a waste of time).

As a company or organization, how are you using social media? Do you invite your audience—be they clients, consumers, customers, or staff—to engage in conversation with you? Are you open to their ideas and insights? Are you able to have a respectful conversation with someone with an opposing viewpoint? Would you refuse to listen to your audience’s point of view if you were having a face-to-face conversation? Haters ‘gonna’ hate, it’s true, and I would say it’s fine to tactfully label the comment as hateful and don’t give it anymore attention. What it comes down to is this: you can use social media in your business or you can engage with social media.

[pullquote]What it comes down to is this: you can use social media in your business or you can engage with social media.[/pullquote]

Ask yourself this question: are you making a speech, or are you engaging in conversation? If it’s not the latter, I suggest you’re wasting your time.

I do not purport to be a social media expert but I do see the value in engaging your audience via social media. And yes, I value your respectful comments and thoughts on the issue. Feel free to comment!