Controversy is the BEST Reason to Engage in Social Media

Controversy is the BEST Reason to Engage in Social Media

ZA WEL - Controversy is the BEST Reason to Engage in Social MediaWhen I presented at the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s 2009 Fall Conference, I got a great question in my “Social Media 102: I’ve Got Friends, Followers and Subscribers…Now What” class. A participant asked, “So I work for a very controversial nonprofit, how can I convince my leadership to let us engage in social media?”

I think being engaged in a controversial subject is one of the BEST reasons to engage in social media. You have a lot to say, a lot of information to clarify and a lot of passion to share. You have a lot of people to completely support your issue and lots of people to try to “educate” to come to your side.

The reality is, if your cause is controversial, people are already talking about you. With social media they can say nasty things to your face instead of saying it behind your back. Which is great…right? When people say nasty things to your face you get to react and be part of the conversation.

Some reasons to get engage in social media as a controversial issue are:

  • Support Those Who Believe in Your Cause – Using live-search tools like Google Alerts and TweetDeck you can find users that are talking about your issue. You can reply to people who are saying good things by engaging them on their blog or on Twitter. The easiest way to do this is to just thank them for saying positive things about your issue. In my position at CCIC, I search for moms who are talking about taking their child to get shots and thank them for protecting their child’s health with vaccines.
  • Share Information – Social media is an amazing advocacy tool. You can use it to spread the “good word” and information to support your issue. It makes your issue personal and approachable. You can answer real questions from real people.  At CCIC, I share around a dozen pro-vaccine news stories a day via Twitter.
  • Correct Misinformation – Now, this one takes some cojones, but you can use social media to help correct misinformation about your issue. You can use social media monitoring tools like TweetDeck to do live searches by key word and engage users who are spreading misinformation. The best way to engage someone who is damaging to your issue is to ask why they feel that way. Asking questions will open a dialog about your issue where you can share additional information. This can also lead to a fight, so be prepared for that. At CCIC, I usually just ask why people distrust vaccine and send them a link to our website for more information.

Now, you do have to be prepared for an full-blown fight online. This can spill over and go to offline forums like traditional media and meetings with your organization. Being prepared for a fight allows you to not be surprised when it happens and react quickly.

The biggest thing to be ready for is the worst. Be prepared for someone to get really mad at you. Be prepared to be called bad names. Have a support structure within your organization to remind you why you are “doing the right thing.”

My tips for when you do get attacked are:

  1. Take a deep breath – You are going to take this personally, it’s okay. Take a moment to get grounded and be ready to react
  2. DO Reply – You asked for this interaction, you can’t be afraid of the conflict. You must engage that user. You don’t have to do it immediately, take your time and reply when you are calm
  3. Don’t take it personally – I know you are taking it personally, but take a moment to separate you from your organization and job. They don’t like your cause, not you as a person (Besides they don’t really know you, this is social media after all)
  4. Stay on target – Remember that you are trying to promote a cause. Stick to your mission. Don’t get side-tracked into other arguments about things that don’t affect your cause
  5. Run your responses by co-workers – If you are getting emotional have a boss or co-worker help you formulate your response. It will help to have a second set of unemotional eyes
  6. Acknowledge their fear, pain, anger, etc – They are upset with your cause because it affects them as a person. I always start my responses with saying that I’m sorry that you are fearful/angry/angry about X. This gives them a win and fortifies your position as caring human being
  7. Be professional and take the high road – You are representing your organization so maintain professionalism and don’t stoop to their level
  8. Have a good exit statement – Have one “go to” phrase that will help you exit the conversation with grace and will give you both an out. This statement needs to acknowledge their position, but not give up anything. At CCIC, I use the statement “Regardless, I’m just thankful that we both care so much about children’s health. Thanks for the conversation. Have a good day!” if I want to stop the conversation. It works every time.

When talking about controversy in social media I think about the phrase “Well behaved women rarely make history.” This goes for nonprofits, too. If you don’t want to be subversive and change the status quo a controversial nonprofit is not where you should spend your time. Carrying the burden of change is difficult, but the rewards are great.

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Kate Runy


A passionate technical wizard, Kate thrives on managing online content, social media for communications, and development projects.  Kate is the workhorse of the team, pulling out amazing feats of content creation and management week in and week out. 

Prior to joining BC/DC Ideas, Kate coordinated website and social media content, communications, and advertising for Go Global NC and Alzheimer’s NC.

Things that make her happy: I love animals about as much as I love working for nonprofits.

Mishel Gomez Cespedes


Mishel brings a passion for video storytelling and quippy social media content to the team.  At BC/DC Ideas, she is most likely editing video or scheduling the next moving social media post for our clients.

Her ear for storytelling is her greatest asset. Mishel has a unique ability to assemble content into a concise story that moves audiences to action.

A graduate of Wake Forest University she spent a semester in Spain and years serving her community through the campus organizations. Now, she is putting her passion for good to work.

Brian Crawford

creative director

Mix equal parts nerd and creativity and that’s Brian. A natural problem-solver, Brian’s ability to cut to the core of any problem helps guide our creative team to the correct solution without wasted time or money. It’s the core, this little nugget of truth, that helps our clients take the next step with their audiences.

Brian gets the greatest joy out of helping our clients realize and connect with their story. He is a true believer that everyone and every organization has a compelling story to tell, you just have to listen with an open heart.

Things that make him happy: Hanging out at the park with family, toddler-speak, hitting the focus pull, and good coffee.

Dawn Crawford


The engine behind BC/DC Ideas, Dawn has dedicated her career to good. Dawn brings her considerable experience and expertise to helping elevate the nonprofit sector. Our team’s lead strategist, Dawn is often seen leading our IdeaStorms, penning communications plans, or checking in with clients.

Before launching BC/DC Ideas in 2010, she earned her chops in 10+ years of communications leadership roles for public health, healthcare and youth-focused nonprofits. Working for nonprofits is Dawn’s dream job, and she loves that her 40+ hours a week make the world a better place.

Things that make her happy: A glass of champagne to celebrate big wins, Basecamp, living in the South, seeing the world, and a well-formatted spreadsheet.