In PR, what’s the Grown-Up Tonality?
When I help companies reply to social activists, I often recommend using the Grown-Up Tonality.
The purpose of the Grown-Up Tonality is to allow your Community Managers to respond more freely on social media — without getting themselves too entangled in agenda-driven political discussions.
Here’s how it works:
The Grown-Up Tonality
Grown-Up Tonality Examples
“Why doesn’t your brand speak out against industrial overfishing killing our oceans?”
“As a company that sells fishing gear, we want our oceans — and all animals and plants living in them! — to be healthy and plentiful. We too were disturbed by the recent news that you’re referring to. How could anyone not be? So, how can our company make more of a difference? Honestly, we’re discussing our strategy for sustainability every day. I cannot say how or when we might take action regarding this latest news specifically, but rest assured that we’re taking the general issue of saving our oceans seriously.”
“Why doesn’t your brand come out more clearly supporting Black Lives Matter?”
“As for right now, we’re listening. We’re listening to the stories being told. We’re listening to better understand how we can learn and grow as a company. As for inclusiveness and human rights in general, we think that we’re doing a great job, but we also believe that it’s equally important to continuously evolve as a company.”
“Why doesn’t your brand join our protests against toxic masculinity and the patriarchy?”
“Honestly, we’re a product company. We make products for anyone who likes them. And I dare say that we’re experts in making these products. However, we’re not experts on ideologies or societal structures. So, for now, we listen. And we continue to focus on making the best products that we can. For everyone. We believe that’s our best way of contributing at this point.”
“Why doesn’t your brand sign our petition to boycott all companies on our Environmental Black List?”
“As a company, we operate differently. Instead of signing petitions or participating in other public demonstrations, we take action within our sphere of influence. And I dare say that our many environmental initiatives are making a lot of difference around the world relative to our size and reach. If we were to sign your petition, we would first have to use our resources to research the legitimacy of its creators and then make sure that none of the companies on that list is being wrongfully accused. While it would be possible, we’ve decided that we can do more good by directing our resources to where we can make the most difference.”
“Why doesn’t your company act against your female employees who take time off for abortions?”
“All our employees are grown-ups and what they do on their own time is frankly none of our business. We’re a large company and we have employees that are pro-life and we have employees that are pro-choice. We believe that we have a workplace where people can have different opinions but still respect each other and work well together.”
“Why hasn’t your company offered your thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of the school shooting?”
“The victims and their families have our empathies, of course. I think that I speak for everyone working at our company when I say we were as devastated by the news as everyone else. But you’re right that we haven’t posted any status updates about the shooting here on our Facebook page. It’s not that we don’t care (we do!), it’s just that we try to focus our updates on our products and services and how they make positive a difference in the world.”
Frequently Asked Questions
The Mature Tonality could perhaps work for us, but our Community Managers cannot write like this.
Train your Community Managers.
Or fire them — and hire better.
A Community Manager should be able to emulate a tonality and find the right words. Sounding like a human while respecting corporate realities is a challenge, but it should be their core competency.
We don’t have the resources to write these kinds of replies on our social media accounts.
Revise your social media strategy if your organisation cannot afford to set aside proper resources to run a certain social media account.
Social media isn’t free of charge.
For our organisation, these kind of statements would only spark even more difficult replies.
Our experience is that it’s never a good idea to “feed the trolls.”
For all your social media accounts, you should have some form of publicly accessible Comment Policy.
A troll, by definition, is someone who deliberately violates your Comment Policy.
Your Comment Policy should always specify how you deal with comments that are in violation of that policy.
Will there be a warning first? Temporary suspension? Removing the comment? Blocking or banning of users?
There’s no one-size-fits-all, and you must continuously develop a Comment Policy that fits your social media strategy.
If the commenter is not in violation of your Comment Policy, and you still don’t want to “feed” them in fear of what will happen next, then your whole social media strategy must be revised.
The Mature Tonality might work elsewhere, but not in our industry.
So, if I point to another organisation in your industry that successfully responds with maturity, integrity, and decency, then you’re still not convinced that it could be done for your organisation? Huh.
Our organisation and our digital footprint is simply too big to respond in this way.
To “speak human” as an organisation does become increasingly difficult with size.
There are, however, workarounds.
One approach is to primarily respond to top comments (comments with many likes or upvotes). If this is what’s specified in the Comment Policy, then that’s a fair approach.
One approach is to publish your response to a specific question or a certain type of question once, and then reply with a link to that published statement.
One approach is, indeed, not to respond. But you have to make this clear and link to a platform where your organisation will be responsive.
Remember, if one of your comment sections spins out of control, and you’re not there to respond and moderate actively, you cannot put the blame on the online community.
Alphabet, Meta, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft etc. I know many successful organisations that almost never responds in social media.
If you’re choosing the route of not being responsive, you must divert more resources to your social listening strategy. Organisations that have the ability to actively listen, crunch the data, and take action can get away with not being responsive.
Also, it would be wise to remember that the companies mentioned above have serious PR challenges, so “successful” is a relative term.