We asked Public Consultation and Engagement experts the following question regarding the Impact of Social Media, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:

How is social media influencing public opinion, and how far have public and private organizations reached in utilizing it towards strengthening their outreach?

MANITOBA CLEAN ENVIRONMENT COMMISSION

Chair,
Terry Sargeant
Social media has broadened the breadth of the public that can be reached. However, discerning what is fact and what is fiction and what is important and what is not, is difficult when information is presented in snippets. There is an expectation by the public of an immediate response or informal engagement, which is not usually possible or wise in public organizations. Engagement through these methods must be followed up with some more traditional methods otherwise any interest goes by the wayside when the next shiny thing pops up.

WHITEFEATHER FOREST INITIATIVE OF PIKANGIKUM FIRST NATION

Senior Advisor,
Andrew J. Chapeskie
Social media, including indigenous social media, is quickly increasing in importance as a tool both for personal communication, as a tool being utilized by indigenous people to inform public opinion within and between their communities and as a tool to influence public opinion in the larger social context (e.g. Facebook).

CRTC

Chief Consumer Officer and Executive Director, Consumer Affairs and Strategic Policy,
Barbara Motzney
The anonymity and temporary identity loss that can be enjoyed on social media can result in public opinion being skewed by seeming opinion leaders who post disruptive or inflammatory comments online – who are acting as trolls – or by specific interests posing as individuals. There are techniques to help mitigate the impact of those who would seek to skew the results, but one must always be aware of the impact that trolls can and do have.

As an employee of a federal government agency, I would have to say that federal government agencies have not, for the most part, harnessed the full potential of social media and for good reason. As public entities accountable to the public, the messaging needs to be accurate and consistent, which by default means that the messaging needs to be reviewed and approved. Though you can have some “in the can responses”, it is impossible to create a meaningful response for every scenario and timeliness of response is key in the social media realm. A slow to come answer is akin to no answer at all as the conversation will have moved on to a completely different topic by the time the answer is issued.

CITY OF BELLEVILLE

Mayor,
Neil Ellis
Social media has become one of the largest influencing factors in public opinion. A lot of community members are no longer being engaged through traditional means and depend on social media for their content. Social Media is a great tool for reaching a larger demographic as it reaches a widespread market. Jobs have been created specifically for social media professionals and a lot of private companies have a Social Media Coordinator on staff. The public world is also excelling in the world of social media by having politicians and staff active in social media and allowing citizens to become thoroughly engaged.

ENBRIDGE NORTHERN GATEWAY

Director of Public and Aboriginal Engagement,
Michele Perret
Many people today, particularly those in younger demographics, get a majority of their information from social media. So it’s critical for us at Northern Gateway to ensure that our engagement efforts include a social media component. While Northern Gateway continues to make extensive use of social media, we’re always looking for new opportunities to engage our stakeholders through this important platform.

ICA ASSOCIATES

Professional Facilitator and Trainer,
Jo Nelson
Social media has a varying effect on public opinion, depending on the age of the public and their usage of social media. It has a major effect on the opinions of young people. Only a few organizations have the know-how to utilize it effectively.

CITY OF VANCOUVER (BC)

Spokesperson, Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force,
Lyndsay Poaps
Social media has changed the way citizens and residents interact with their governments. It has set up expectations that inquiries and requests will be addressed in real time and that information will be communicated in short burst. It can be immensely effective but it’s just another tool and many situations and issues require different tools and strategies.

ICA ASSOCIATES

Principal, Group Facilitator, and ToP Trainer,
John Miller, CPF, CTF, BA, MA
Social media is probably influencing public opinion but doing so in nooks and crannies of a dispersed publics. In that sense it seems to meet the needs of narrow-casting opinion-reinforcing entities like political action committees and vendors of things. This is not necessarily “good” for creating an enlightened public opinion. In fact, the results seem to be greater entrenchment of opinions, regardless of insight.

MUNICIPALITY OF CLYDE RIVER (NU)

Mayor,
Jerry Natanine
Social media has a very big influence over the public. People now communicate instantly about any subject online. Subjects that would have taken days to be exposed are now instantly known. Either side has the potential to sway public opinion through social media.

The outreach of the industry is viewed by many as greedy and not wanting to have anything to do with anybody if it was up to them. Social media is shaping how people can approach a project and to be united in that cause. It can only get better for the people if they are united in their cause.

JACKSONVILLE COMMUNITY COUNCIL (FL)

President & CEO,
Ben Warner
Social media is a tremendous outreach tool, and can take an issue and broadcast it widely and quickly. It serves best as an invitation to engage, however, and not the engagement itself – social media conversations tend to be too anonymized (we say things to each other we would never dare say in person) and too shallow to reach real solutions. However, to rally people around an idea, share an opportunity to engage, and motivate people to participate in engagement, social media is a tremendous tool. We’re just beginning to tap into the possibilities, and of course the landscape is always changing – once we think we understand a tool, both the tool and the audience have changed. To engage effectively, we must be incredibly nimble in our strategies and openness to new tools.

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