The Art of Shaping Public Opinion: How To Do It and Why it Matters

May 15, 2017

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
In a world of competing messages bombarding people on a daily basis, truly shaping public opinion on any given issue can be a difficult task. During my time in public office, I found myself waging a daily battle to overcome a constant torrent of misinformation, usually generated by unreliable sources and spread through the internet like an infectious disease.

Whether it’s in business, politics or in your personal life, once you or an initiative you’re working on has been targeted with negative online propaganda, there’s damage done whether we like it or not. Over time I’ve seen a staggering number of big ideas and potentially game changing projects come crashing to the ground after the well of public opinion has been poisoned. However, the battle to shape public opinion doesn’t have to be a losing one.

In leadership positions, public opinion matters and shaping it is more of an art form than it is a tried and true science. Relying on the latest poll numbers on your product line, your latest policy or your approval rating, has led more than one leader to make the wrong decision at the wrong time. Though shaping and defining public opinion is no easy task, here are five ways to do it I’ve learned through my own time in the crucible.

Be consistent with your message
When shaping public opinion, consistency simply matters. Being consistent with your message helps build public trust which helps shape public opinion is a very positive way. If your message is constantly changing it leaves the door open for conjecture as to the validity of it in the first place.

Be a credible messenger
When trying to shape public opinion, one of the most important ways to do it is to have the message delivered by a credible messenger. As a leader, if you’ve got a credibility issue you’ve got a problem from the start. Maintaining your credibility in a leadership position is undoubtedly one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of being able to successfully shape public opinion.

Know the facts
They say that “the truth will set you free.” This definitely applies in any effort to positively impact public opinion. Though misinformation can run rampant remember it is just that … misinformation. Just because someone says something repeatedly and loudly doesn’t make it the truth. The facts are simply the facts and you should always remember to stick to them in your message delivery.

Be transparent
In my experience the general public is far more intelligent than they’re often given credit for. Full disclosure and transparency are key to any effort to shape public opinion. If your motives aren’t pure or you’re trying to generate an outcome different from your stated goal, you can bet the public will pick up on it. Staying honest and above board with whatever initiative you’re working on is a key component of building public trust and increasing your chances of a positive outcome.

Don’t cater to or be distracted by the vocal minority
Let’s face it, there are just some minds you’re never going to change. Spending too much time and effort trying to convince the vocal minority opposing your efforts can easily become a needless waste of time and energy as well as a distraction. I’ve often seen leaders fall into the trap of believing a few loud voices represent prevailing public opinion and make their decisions based on this mindset. Remember, there’s always a silent majority out there who are much more willing to listen to reason and to base their opinion on facts as opposed to raw emotion.

Shaping public opinion in a positive manner regarding your business, your brand, or your personal reputation as a leader, is absolutely essential to ensure sustainable success over time. To do it successfully takes time, effort and a great deal of patient persistence. However, when done artfully and for the right reasons, the positive outcomes that can be achieved will, more often than not, exceed your expectations.

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