How To Make Online Ranting Matter

I love my town.

But I can’t say that I’ve had my proudest moments over the past few weeks when we elected a First Selectman (like a Mayor) who we soon found out was being charged by a former employer with felony embezzlement and petit larceny.

Nor can I say my proudest moment was when a newly elected member of the Board of Education, Gregory Beck, posted this in response to the 26 Days of Kindness (an initiative born from the Newtown shooting on December 14, 2012):

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The only pride I’ve been able to take in this mess has been the fact that I didn’t vote for either of them.

But a lot of people did. And they are mad.

There have been hundreds of comments posted on the Patch. There’ve been an equal number of Facebook posts on the topic. Most people have been asking for their resignation. A few have tried to defend their actions. But people have been talking. And talking.

Does Any Of It Matter?

While all this online ranting has been taking place, Greg Beck has said very little. He has not engaged in any of the Patch commenting nor any of the public Facebook page discussions. Until last night, he refused to resign.

But last night he announced his plan to resign from the Board of Education which is exactly what the hundreds of commenters were calling for.

So, how did we harness the online ranting and anger? How did we make it matter?

1. Give people something to do besides rant.

In marketing it’s known as the “call to action”. What do you want people to do? Write a letter? Make a phone call? Join a protest? Sign a petition? If you don’t know, they sure won’t know. You have to know what you want the angry online mob to do, and then you have to tell them. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.

In our case, we needed people to submit a formal complaint to the town Ethics Committee. We had hundreds of comments between the Patch and Facebook, but just two formal complaints. The complaint forms had to be filled out, notarized and submitted, and only two people followed this process. This demonstrates the difference between popping off a comment on the Patch and actually doing something offline.

2. Gain Credibility

Besides knowing what you want ranters to do, you have to get them to listen to you. That means you have to be able to articulate the call to action clearly, and present yourself with some authority. Depending on the issue, you may need the call to action to come from someone with some authority or respect within the community.

Is there someone involved in your cause who’s well known? Can you approach someone with name recognition and ask for a statement? In our case, we had two things going for us.

  1. We had people with name recognition in the community asking for Greg Beck’s resignation.
  2. We had a lot of other people asking for the same thing. This volume allowed us to reach many people in the community through each person’s individual network.

3. Keep information coming

On the day that news breaks, it may be hard to imagine that the hubbub will ever die down. But the fact is, it will. And it will die down faster than you think unless you keep the information coming.

In our case, the news about Beck’s Facebook post came out. Then it was the news that the Republican party asked for his resignation. Then there was his first Board of Education meeting at which no fewer than 10 people spoke asking for his resignation. Then there was his response. Then there were the formal Ethics charges and the news that the posting had been made while he was on the job.

It’s important to keep the community informed because it keeps the story (and the outrage) top of mind.

4. Take it offline

In most cases, online ranting won’t be enough. People will use aliases. You’ll see the same people and the same comments over and over. There may be cases where you can accomplish your goals completely through online measures. But most likely, online will be your means to mobilize something to happen offline – a vote, a meeting, participation at an event, etc. You need to know what that offline activity is, and motivate your crowd to get there.

Know that everyone who participates online won’t show up offline. Online is easy. You can do it in your PJs. But many will show. If you can keep them informed and inspired, and if you can speak with authority and motivate them, you just might get the job done.

 

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