What to do about the weaponisation of social media

The weaponisation of social media has seen anti-business activist groups build up a huge online following in Australia. These groups spend four times as much on online campaigns than pro-business groups and have accumulated over 200,000 followers.

Their success lies not just in the money they spend, but how they spend it.  Anti-business groups are hugely sophisticated social media users, they understand how people interact with online platforms and know how stories can be used to reinforce pre-existing beliefs. Manipulating this digital echo-chamber not only shapes opinion, but also allows groups to drives recruitment, raise funds and propagandise their cause. This poses a considerable reputational risk for businesses. Indeed, without an in depth understanding of the modern media landscape companies cannot analyse the impact of online commentary for key stakeholders, let alone influence the direction of these conversations

The mining industry is one example of how companies can no longer respond with old advertising to mitigate new online risks. The well organised and funded ‘lock the gate’ or ‘Greenpeace’ campaigns require mining companies to use more than glossy TV commercials to correct the record. The businesses they target need to smarten up their game when it comes engaging the online audience. The way people listen and communicate has changed rapidly over the past decade and businesses need to reassess how they to engage communities, call out falsehoods and dispel myths. For leaders looking to champion issues and initiatives, digital awareness is a must.

Nine years ago when I told a prominent public company chairman – and good friend – that I was starting a Social Media Intelligence business. He looked at me oddly and said: “Social Media Intelligence. Isn’t that an oxymoron?” He wasn’t alone in thinking so. Nine years ago Twitter and Snapchat didn’t exist, and Facebook was an infantile gossip platform with 200,000 users. Today, there are 17 million Facebook users in Australia, logging on for around 12 hours a week, while Twitter and Snapchat draw 2.8 and 4 million users respectively.

Increasing numbers of people are turning to these platforms for their news and current affairs causing a shift away from tradition media. This has seen the number of journalists halve in past decade as users move from passively consuming information from newspapers and television to take control of it as collectors, creators and distributors.

The democratisation of modern media has lent a greater voice to anti-business groups and increased the need for businesses to take a more active role in shaping the coverage of their industry. Even without the coordinated campaigns of certain interest groups, there is always an outside risk that interest in a fallacious story or unsubstantiated rumors will spiral beyond control and go viral. With this said, most commentary can be constructively engaged. Companies have not, on the whole, done enough to seize the opportunities that this presents.

Business groups will need to do more if they are to mitigate the risk of being out campaigned, out smarted and increasingly marginalised by anti-business activists. For businesses that do engage online platforms, there are opportunities to catch up to these activists and control their image and outlook.

This post formed part of a speech Greg presented at the recent AMEC Convention 2017. The theme for this year’s event was”Driving the next cycle”, discussing how to use the lessons from the past to shape the mineral resources sector into the 21st century. 


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