I seem to hear this more and more often, usually by someone defending their right to communicate a point of view that a large number of people find offensive in some way.
This week I was talking to a business owner who found a 1-star review had been placed on a well-known platform. On closer examination, the person who placed the review (which also included a quite damning comment or two) had never been a customer or even a potential customer. The only contact between the reviewer and the business owner was when the business made a personal enquiry to a company where the ‘reviewer’ worked and then subsequently declined to deal with the company. It seems that the reviewer has acted purely out of a desire for revenge. When challenged, the reviewer’s response was effectively “well that’s what I think, and I’m entitled to free speech”
Also, this week, the Labour Party’s NEC agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism with an extra statement relating to free speech.
And every time there seems to be a case of Internet ‘trolling’ there seems to be a defence of the abusers along the grounds of freedom of speech. In the era of social media, it seems many people forget that what 20 years ago would have been a comment to a friend over coffee or a beer, is now published for anyone to read. Social media platforms continue to insist they are not media owners, but we all know that Facebook, Twitter and Google etc. are powerful media channels.
All this made me curious about what ‘Free Speech’ actually means from a legal perspective. According to Wikipedia (I know this isn’t necessarily accurate) the correct term is actually ‘freedom of expression’ and there are around 25 listed exceptions, which I assume means things you can’t say. These include abusive or insulting words, defamation and trade secrets.
It appears then that in the eyes of the law you can’t just say anything you want and claim the right to free speech.
When creating marketing communication, there are some core principles which build effectiveness:
Firstly, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve.
Then we think carefully about the target audience – who is going to receive the communication and what do we know about them, their beliefs and behaviours. How will this communication be received and what effect will it have on them?
We should spend time designing the message text and visual imagery – an effective message needs careful crafting, should be single-minded and expressed as simply as possible.
We also need to carefully select the medium – the medium and message need to work together, and the medium should have a good fit with the audience, not just readership, but the way in which it is consumed.
Finally, we should measure and learn – did the message get through and did it have the desired effect?
I can’t help but think that most instances of ‘free speech’ on social media that causes upset would benefit from taking the marketing approach. Thinking about who the message might reach (given the platform), and carefully considering the message, might just cause less offence.
But if you have an overwhelming urge to say something offensive, the pub might be a better place than Facebook or Twitter.
If your business could benefit from more effective communication, why not give us a call on 0121 222 5743 or contact us here