Revealed in last week’s indictment of Russian operatives with the IRA by the Department of Justice, is the detail that Moscow’s trolls had a style guide of sorts to help their agents blend in to the US political conversation:
“Name the subject, and Russian disinformation operatives had a playbook on how to pass themselves off as politically active Americans as they secretly sought to manipulate U.S. voters online — on both the right and the left — with incendiary phrases, glib putdowns and appeals to pre-existing political biases.”
The phrases they use will sound familiar to anyone who has followed politics in recent years and read like the comments section of any political website you’ve ever read.
There’s an important takeaway for anyone working to shape conversations online: The Russians started by listening to their target audience. They wanted the ideas and topics they injected into our political discourse to sound familiar. It’s a psychological concept known as “fluency.”
In Hit Makers, Derek Thompson writes, “Fluent ideas and products are processed faster and they make us feel better…Most people generally prefer ideas that they already agree with…”
Familiarity is key to fluency, Thompson explains, when people “read a political argument that reflects their biases it fits snugly into their story of how the world works.”
The Russians at the IRA took existing biases and amplified them using familiar language. It had devastating effects on our politics, but the lessons and mechanics from this episode can also be used for good – including fighting back.
The formula for good social media is right in the name: it’s social AND media. A good conversationalist listens at least as much as he speaks. If you’re at a social function and the person you’re chatting with never lets you speak, talks about topics only of interest to her, and doesn’t pick up on the social cues that you’re bored, it’s clear you’re dealing with a sociopath.
Lots of organizations actually practice sociopath media: it’s all one-way broadcast content, there’s no effort to be relevant, and it doesn’t change based on feedback showing low engagement.
If you want to use social media to shape the conversation online, take a page from the Russian playbook and practice fluency.