Being Heard in the Great Debates: Social Media Strategies for Engaging in the Big Stories

UK Film CouncilOne of the things that is fantastic about the web is its pure and simple speed.  No sooner had we all taken in the shock announcement of the abolition of the UK Film Council than people were Twittering, blogging and updating their Facebook status all at once.

The web – particularly screenwriting and filmmaking websites – was ablaze this week with torrents of tirades against the closure, or against the UKFC itself.

How, then, do you get your voice heard amid all this noise and bluster?

It’s all too easy to sit at a keyboard and bash out 500 words on why the enforced shuttering of the UKFC is a good or bad thing, but how do we make sure that our contribution becomes part of the wider picture?

There are many lessons to be learned from internet debates that apply to social media strategy across the board – and not just for writers and filmmakers.  In order to add value to a debate, we must learn how, where and to whom we must direct our comments.

There is little point publishing a tirade on a website or blog with hardly any traffic or that’s read by the wrong type of people – for discussions to have impact they have to be targeted in places where the influencers will read them. If filmmakers want to affect decision-making in this country, we need to hunt out the best places for our views and opinions to be aired.

Twitter has proven hugely successful at launching and maintaining campaigns, mostly thanks to its hashtag system.  Being able to track every utterance on a particular topic, as labelled with it’s own specific hastag (like #UKFC or #savetheUKFC in this case), allows people from all over the world to access the thoughts and feelings of the community.

Although Facebook offers almost instant Groups and Pages on contentious topics their disadvantage is their narrow focus and disparate groupings. Where Twitter enables people to see all sides of the debate all at once, Facebook groups are almost universally partisan, meaning you have to actively seek out both sides of the debate if you want a balanced view. As anyone can create a group, there also ends up being several groups with the same aim, dividing and diluting the support base.

Blogs and websites are another kettle of red herrings.  Your own personal blog may feel like the place to contribute your two-pennyworth, but if you really want to engage in a debate and have your voice heard (and listened to), it can be more valuable to seek out blogs with stronger and more engaged followings.

London Screenwriters’ Festival Director Chris Jones blogged about the story this week and drew some really interesting comments on his post.  Shooting People have also had a debate smouldering away in their bulletins and on their blog this week, too.  Far better to engage in a debate with higher-traffic sites than to spend an hour crafting a missive that few people will get to see.

Engagement is the ultimate power of social media.  When you’re focused on the selfishness of getting your voice heard, you’ll find yourself emitting a mouse-like squeak. But if you make a conscious effort to join the debate, to listen, react and respond, you can discover the collective lion’s roar.