All too often Facebook pages are "toned down" in order to avoid scandal, controversy, or the potential to turn off fans. Many pages seem scared to express opinions for the risk of offending people. This is the safest approach. It's also the least productive.
Many businesses, whether they're willing to admit it or not, are concerned with the messages they put out on social media. Someone at the top of the company wishes that social media didn't exist, that they could just go back to the old days when they didn't have to say anything to the public in a conversational venue. The challenge that social media poses that makes it different from the days of press release and traditional PR is that social media opens up a dialogue versus the old way which was a one-way communication.
Savvy businesses have learned to embrace the conversation. They've learned that being bold and aggressive with their messages allows for stronger engagement, that the risks associated with intelligent and thought-out perspectives is much lower than the potential for true marketing, outreach, and PR.
They know things that most businesses don't. Here are some of them.
Understanding Opinions and Controversy
There is a certain amount of thought that needs to be put into social media campaigns that involve opinions. The it's pretty common to see poor choices made where a company tried to latch onto an idea or event that backfired on them. In all of these cases, the challenges could have been avoided through common sense.
Expressing opinions as a company on things that affect real people will get people talking about your message. If they're talking about your message, they're talking about you. If they're talking about you, others will see the conversation and may choose to follow you as a result.
On one hand, you have "the lines" - politics and religion. Some are willing to cross it. Most will not. A look at the rollercoaster year that Chick-fil-A has had is enough to make most companies avoid such issues and there's nothing wrong with that. Keep in mind - they did not go to social media to get their opinions out, but social media made the opinions of the company very well known without their assistance.
Whether your company wants to engage in politics or religion is up to you, but most don't even get close to the lines. They steer far away from anything that could be considered an opinion that others don't share. Even if it's a popular opinion, many will avoid. This is a mistake.
Take, for instance, a local business in Oklahoma City. A good percentage of the football fans in the area support the University of Oklahoma, but others support Oklahoma State, Tulsa, or other schools. Despite the lack of consensus, it would be a safe bet for a local business to show support for one or more of the schools. In some cases, business can find success by being "homers". In other words, any local team that does well gets kudos.
Others such as Redondo Beach Cafe in Long Beach, CA, have embraced a single sports team as the center of their establishment's focus in an area that has dozens of sports teams available on both the college and professional level. They are unabashedly LA Kings fans and they're willing to blast that out nearly every week, even when hockey is not in season.
It's not just about sports and politics. Having a knowledgeable opinion about your industry that's of universal interest can be beneficial as well. For example, a Honda dealer doesn't have to stay quiet on social media if Toyota has a major recall. Is it risky? Yes. What happens if Honda has a recall the following month? The fun or factual attacks on Toyota can be beneficial at one point then come back to bite them later if the same thing happens.
Thankfully, social media has a short memory unless the news itself goes national. GoDaddy made a mistake by backing the wrong horse initially in their opinion of SOPA and they've had challenges ever since. Even though they openly switched opinions, the damage was done. If you're going to support something, make sure that it's going to be a popular choice. It doesn't have to be the most popular choice, but there has to be a good number of people who will either back up your opinion or be willing to respect it.
Nobody respected GoDaddy's support of SOPA.
Why it's Important
Boldness gets rewarded when done properly. Standing behind what you and your company believe goes a long way with credibility. As long as your opinions are sincere and not geared specifically towards being inserted into an irrelevant conversation, then you have a chance to succeed.
Sometimes, the opinions expressed can draw in the type of engagement that can only come from asking questions. For example, a company that has employees that travel a lot once put together their own ratings of restaurants in airports. They highlighted a new restaurant every day and got feedback from their travelling employees about which they liked best.
They solicited opinions from their own Facebook fans. They would post things such as "Theresa is heading through Denver airport tomorrow and is stuck with a 3-hour layover. Which restaurant should she park at if she just wants good appetizers?"
Denver being a popular layover airport brought out the responses in bunches. They picked up dozens of new fans from the single post itself as people would like the page to respond.
Done right, expressing your company's opinions and getting your fans opinions in return can be the most powerful organic method of generating engagement and growth. Done wrong, there are risks involved. The keys are to make sure that you're sincere, that you think the opinions through when controversy is possible, and that you respect your fans enough to respond to them when they post their own opinions.
Make it a conversation.