COMMUNICATION IS a vital tool used throughout every aspect of our life. From family and friends to work associates and constituents, it’s an unavoidable, necessary part of our lives. How you communicate and the method used to relay information is just as important. As county officials, we must be extremely cautious of the channel of communications we use as it can easily be misconstrued and bring about negative attention. Although technology continues to evolve, I have found that there is an added value in having a face-to-face conversation or even speaking over the telephone. While emails, text messages, and social media are easier methods to use, it can lead to unwarranted problems. People perceive messages differently and react based on the feeling the message evokes. A placid text message or email can easily be taken out of context simply because the recipient is unsure of the tone or intent of the message. To avoid any potential confusion, it’s sometimes best to communicate the "old fashioned" way. While there is no substitute for face-to-face communication, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on the ease and convenience of digital communication. In some cases, where verbal communication is not an option, a quick email or text message is the best way to reach someone. In those instances, I advise you to think of best practices to ensure that your words will be received in the manner in which they were intended. Be mindful of how your message can be taken out of context.
While social media is a great tool that allows you to connect with a mass audience, how you interact with your followers can greatly impact the public’s perception of you as a leader. I’m sure many can relate to receiving unwarranted responses that have a negative tone. Unfortunately, social media leaves us vulnerable to not-so-constructive criticism. It’s up to us to streamline what we say and how we respond, if a response is deemed necessary. Despite the negatives that come along with social media there are some positives aspects to it. Being able to connect with your constituents and meeting them where they are is always a positive. Social media can connect you to a younger audience and with those who are otherwise unattainable. It allows you to engage with citizens who do not attend committee meetings, actively participate in community events or are unfamiliar with your role in the county. It also opens the door to the media—particularly when negative exchanges occur—and to those who only have negative intentions. Thus, I advise you to be cautious when using these platforms. While social media is a convenient tool, it must be navigated properly.
Remember, at the end of the day, your priority is to uphold the public office by operating with transparency and integrity. You are still a county official and must always present yourself in that manner—even on social media. While these platforms uphold our right to the First Amendment, they uphold the public’s right to the First Amendment as well. We still have to be wise about our decisions. Although it is your profile, you represent not only the constituents but your county staff, fellow board members and even your family. Everything you do or say can be scrutinized, especially online. Once you post it, it’s out there forever. Your message has been seen and can either circulate positive or negative attention.
It’s important for us to find a happy medium with our channels of communication and avoid responding out of anger. Be smart and think about the best method to use to ensure your message is communicated clearly. Before you press send, stop and ask yourself, "How would I interpret this message?" For best practices, try waiting for 24 hours before responding to an abrasive message. I have found that by waiting, I’m able to tone down my initial response and as a result, become much more effective in communicating without allowing things to escalate. Remember, even when you verbally communicate, pay attention to the tone of your voice and be clear in your message. You never know how others will perceive what you say.