Don’t Fear the Tweeters

July 23, 2018

Got a big capital project? Build a base of support to keep activists—on social media and in real life—from blocking your development projects.

The thought of your company’s name being targeted by a hashtag campaign is enough to keep any executive awake at night. In the present moment, the risk that local activists will use social media to sway public opinion in opposition to your project is potentially one of the biggest risks to your ultimate success in any development project.

Grassroots, Not Astroturf

Concerned community groups are much more likely to respond positively when corporations engage with them honestly and forthrightly. It’s all about making a personal, emotional connection. When it’s time to manage the hard work of engaging locals to build a coalition, tread carefully; an overly slick presentation can actually have the opposite effect of what you’re hoping for. Instead of making the community members feel like their concerns are valued and heard, they may feel alienated, perceive the company as aloof, and see engagement meetings as exercises in nothing more than box-ticking.

Collaboration, Not Charts

Leave the binders and charts at home. Instead, create environments such as workshops and town halls which are open for discussion, allow community members of all backgrounds to share their hopes and concerns, and incorporate that input into final project proposals. Shareholders who once were potential adversaries are likely to transform into stakeholders with vested interest in a project’s success.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

One pitfall in building a consensus is leaning too heavily on the wrong community representatives. Whether they are predisposed to agree with you because you have interacted with them on previous occasions or because they have already expressed support for your project, if you concentrate on the voices you know and think this will satisfy the larger community, you put yourself at risk. Here’s why you should engage everyone, including potential adversaries:

> While ignoring antagonists may seem easier in the moment, it can allow their argument to gain traction and followers, and their anger to intensify. Ultimately, you could end up being forced to confront these leaders later, potentially in a moment of crisis.

> Listening to your would-be enemies can give you clues as to which part of your project they might support. Perhaps they don’t object to your final goals, only your execution, for example.

> Engaging with community stakeholders who don’t support your project early in the process allows a greater opportunity for compromise.