Recently, I heard a story about a young couple who were enjoying a pleasant drive in an area of regional Australia. As they drove along admiring the forest on either side of the car, they were suddenly presented with what to them seemed a picture of utter devastation; a recently cleared logging coupe. Pulling over to the side of the road they pulled out their phones, took photos and proceeded to post them on Facebook along with some rather strong accompanying comments which included the words, “plunder” and rape”!
People in the Forest Industries to whom I have recounted this story, shake their heads and dismiss this as the work of people who are ignorant of how the industry actually works. For the most part, these sentiments are correct, but no matter how ill-informed our Facebook posters may be, there is no escaping the influence their Social Media foray can have. The people who read their posts and in turn pass them on, are giving their side of the story wide coverage. This can lead to adverse publicity and further magnify any negative stereotypes which may be held about our industry.
In the past, the Forest Industries were very slow to appreciate the implications of this kind of activity and had even been content to let posters like this have the last word. It is critical that the industry at all levels acknowledges that letting this sort of thing go through to the keeper does not help our image and we need to be proactive in ensuring our story is out there and we are able to respond to any adverse comments about our activities.
So how can we manage such posts in a constructive way? Here are some quick points to consider:
- Maintain a presence on Social Media – rather than being reactive to posts such as the one described above, we should actually start the conversation and thus have more control over it. Imagine if the company responsible for the Coupe in question had a Facebook page which it updated regularly. It could have explained what it was doing and invited comment and questions from concerned people.
- Keep across what people are saying on Social Media – using the various tools available on Social Media, we can monitor the sorts of things that are trending and generating discussion. The only thing worse than knowing people are saying misleading things about you and doing nothing, is not even being aware of what is being sad about you!
- Respond to comments appropriately – the mistake many people make when confronted with a post like the one described above is to go in boots and all and try to be “the expert”. A more useful strategy is to always thank people for their interest and explain why the coupe looked the way it did and how that fits into the sustainable management of forests. There will be a predictable range of responses to this but at least we can stay on message and provide links and supporting information.
Social Media is now ubiquitous and we can expect its influence to continue in all areas of life. The Forest Industry will be subject to varying levels of scrutiny, much of it from people whose knowledge of how the industry actually operates is minimal. The challenge is to respond to this in appropriate and effective ways which sells the industry and creates a positive image.