6 Common Communication Risks in Online Engagement

We do a lot of presentations to public sector organizations. Unsurprisingly we get asked a lot of the same questions over and over again. Communication professionals more often than not relate back to how an online forum could impact the integrity of their organizational brand.

We’ve selected the top six most frequently asked questions about communications risks to discuss.

Isn’t it possible that members of the community will post awful or defamatory statements about us, each other, other organisations, or members of the public?

The short answer is yes. This is why you need to have risk management strategies in place. There are three options depending on the organizational and project risk profile.

First up, if you going with a post-moderation model, which we always recommend, then you need a 24/7 moderation team. Obviously, you can’t have abusive or defamatory comments sitting on your site over the weekend while your moderation team has a nice rest from a hard week. We’re managing to get to comments within 24 minutes right now, which is why we are confident recommending post-moderation.

Your second option to go for a co-moderation model. You still need the 24/7 moderation team beavering away in the background, but with co-moderation you are part of the team – you can review all of the comments, see which comments have been removed, which comments have been blacklisted, which comments have been spam filtered, and which comments have been reported by the community.

The third, and least favorable moderation model, is pre-moderation. We have argued against this model on both methodological and technological grounds in the past and will generally continue to do so. For the rare instance that post-moderation is not appropriate you will still need a 24/7 mod-team because it is truly infuriating when you post a comment to a moderated site and it takes hours or days to appear. You will also need an on-screen design that makes it clear that it NOT a forum. Pre-moderation excludes the possibility of a properly functioning forum.

What if the community openly disagrees with us and criticises our policy?

It’s entirely possible, even probable, that they will. The advance and popularity of social media mean that active individuals and groups can now readily broadcast their views and opinions into the digital arena. The thing is, isn’t it better to have people making comments in a well-managed space rather than expressing their outrage on an unmoderated forum or Facebook page.

Experience shows that genuine outrage occurs when an organisation does not offer a democratic space for opinions to be aired. In such a social and cultural landscape, it is far better and safer than debate occurs on your digital platform rather than anywhere else. While the conversations can continue, a tightly moderated platform affords you an unequalled position to track hot issues, correct misinformation and address specific concerns.

But what if the media chooses to selectively quote from the discussion forums?

While in theory, this may happen, in the 200 or so projects we have managed, we’ve only seen this happen twice. We believe that there are a few good reasons for this:

  • The comments on our discussion forums are, in the majority, posted anonymously; making it impossible to attribute quotes to anyone identifiable person and effectively cancelling out its intrinsic newsworthiness.
  • The fact that an organization has taken the step to engage their community transparently online makes it less of an easy target media-wise.
  • The obvious transparency of a forums’ debate makes it difficult for a media organization to take sides and promote a particular view.

We’ve put a lot of time and effort into identifying our key messages. Is there a risk they could be confused in an online discussion?

By engaging online in a space you manage, you get to frame the debate using key messages and any supporting information developed across the project’s lifespan. You can use the full range of communications tools – video, slideshows, pictures, maps, documents, fact sheets etc. – to get your message across.

By monitoring the conversation carefully you can respond, amend, facilitate, and redirect participants as issues arise. This means that you have the opportunity to nip issues in the bud which might otherwise flourish in the absence of good quality information.

We know our community. We know their interests. They want to talk to us, not to a consultant.

We agree completely. You should always do the talking.

There is a reason why the moderation service should be provided separately from any strategic communications or facilitation services you may require. Managing bias is an important issue. Managing the potential for the perception of bias is an equally important issue.

This is why we are not spokespeople; nor are we media advisors, public relations consultants, brand strategists, communications or issues managers. Our job is to provide a safe and amiable platform on which you can hold your discussion along with the advice required to get the best results out of that platform.

Our organization has spent a lot of time and money on our branding.  It’s important to us that it carries across all of our communications, including our consultations.

Any product worth its salt should be available as a white-label option so that you can rebrand with your corporate identity.

Photo Credit: Fern Inocencio

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