In PR, what’s the high toad tonality?
When I help companies reply to social activists, I often recommend using the high road tonality.
The high road tonality aims to allow your community managers to respond more freely on social media — without getting too entangled in agenda-driven and sensitive discussions.
Here’s how it works:
The High Road Tonality
The High Road Tonality
An organisation is the total sum of all its coworkers. Imagine taking the most mature traits from each coworker and combining them into one voice — the high road tonality.
Read also: The High Road Tonality: Don’t Be Pushed Around
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High Road 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 of overfishing. How could anyone not be? We now ask ourselves, 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 specific action regarding this latest news, but rest assured that we’re taking the general issue of saving our oceans seriously.”
“Why doesn’t your brand engage in 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 we’re doing a great job, and part of that is to stay open and carefully listen to people’s stories. We might take specific actions, but for now — we’re listening and learning.”
“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 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 speak for everyone working at our company when I say we were devastated by the news as everyone else. But you’re right that we haven’t posted any status updates about the shooting on our Facebook page. It’s not that we don’t care (we do!), it’s just that we focus our updates on our products and services and how they make a positive difference in the world.”
Frequently Asked Questions
The high road 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 challenging, but it should be their core competency.
Read also: A Community Manager’s Job Description
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.
There’s often an irony here. Most organisations complain that their CSR activities are given enough credit or attention.
But here we have situations where people actively ask about your CSR strategy. Whenever someone asks you a question, they give you a reason to speak.
Don’t take such opportunities for granted.
Our experience is that it’s never a good idea to “feed the trolls.”
You should have some form of publicly accessible comment policy for all your social media accounts.
A troll, by definition, is someone who deliberately violates your comment policy.
Your comment policy should always specify how you deal with comments that violate 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 violating your comment policy, and you still don’t want to “feed” them in fear of what will happen next, your social media strategy must be revised.
Read also: How To Deal With Online Trolls
The high road 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, you’re still not convinced it could be done for your organisation. Huh.
I would recommend measuring your communication maturity.
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 primarily responds to top comments (comments with many likes or upvotes). If this is specified in the comment policy, 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 must clarify this 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 blame the online community.
Alphabet, Meta, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft etc. I know many successful organisations that almost never responds in social media.
You must divert more resources to your social listening strategy if you’re not responsive. 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.
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