I contemplated for several weeks before I decided that I needed to write about this topic. Here’s a story, the likes of which I guarantee you’ve never read before.

The chamber of the House of Commons is shown during Question Period Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
The chamber of the House of Commons is shown during Question Period Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Several weeks ago, I commented on a newly sworn-in MP’s Facebook post in response to a delicate,

sometimes polarizing issue asking for clarification on what he meant. Having been involved with the current government at both the riding and campaign levels, I know several MPs in House of Commons and it’s not unusual for us to exchange phone calls, emails, texts, or Facebook messages.

Imagine my surprise, however, when the MP calls me on my phone and gives me an earful about how he doesn’t want me to comment on his Facebook page and that he doesn’t have time to deal with these things. Suffice to say he blasted me with everything that an elected official shouldn’t – not to mention the tone.

The public relations field is dotted with crisis and issues management case studies on how not to do social media. I figure that by now we should all be doing social media ‘right.’

Averting Social Media Crises
Courtesy of Altimeter Group and Shoutlet

The point is not to lambast an elected official but to highlight how dangerous this can be for someone whose brand is not a business, but their own personality. Imagine if a constituent received the same call and then went on to vent about it on Twitter or Facebook. Imagine what that would do to this newly-elected MP’s federal career before it even starts.

Social Media Has Dissociative Identity Disorder

Take a look at your company’s Facebook page or Twitter following. There are many types of people that you have to inclusively address. In other words, isolating demographics can be difficult when broadcasting on Twitter or Facebook. Unlike traditional marketing, you can’t isolate and target your market with specific messages. You’re going to get a plethora of people passively or actively engaging with you, even though the message may not be meant for everyone.

By the same token, social media managers tend to treat their followers as one homogenous group, approaching them in a behaviouristic method. There’s no standard operating procedure book that will tell you how to deal with different demographics, just different problems.

Social Media Managers Need Buy-In At The Management Table

I am convinced that in many cases, upper management restricts social media managers from responding to criticism. It was once possible to remain silent and let the issue die down, but since social media has forced transparency upon organizations, they have no choice but to respond in kind. Silence begets more criticism and those that come out victorious are those that engage with their audience.

In the MP’s case, perhaps the social media manager said, “we should respond on the same platform. Maybe other constituents have similar questions. This will help us to demonstrate our willingness to engage with them.” Instead, I got that call. Many times, social media managers are relegated to a tactical position rather than being given a strategic role even though they are at the metaphorical frontline of communication. Facebook and other social media platforms cater to the 18’s to mid-30s demographic, which is the same age group as those that find themselves in a social media manager role.

So How Do We Get Social Media Right?

While volunteering for a non-profit organization in international development several years ago, a

Social Media Managers are at the frontline.
Social Media Managers are at the frontline.

supporter posted a comment about the Canadian International Development Agency being subsumed into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. My suggestion was to respond to the comment on Facebook so that we could take the lead on a conversation that was taking place everywhere but on our page. Instead, we pulled the post for a completely different reason which meant that the comment would also be deleted. We called the stakeholder and thanked them for their support and comment and apologized for the situation. It worked out pretty well and served as a good case study as to when to take an online relationship and extend it offline.

But does it apply in the situation in which I found myself? I don’t think so for two reasons. First, the post stayed as is and didn’t receive a response. Second, the phone call that carried the online relationship offline was done for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.

It is critical, in my opinion, that as upper management, we give more of a say to PR’s social media function at the decision table. I also think that we really need to evaluate the latent opportunity for reputation enhancement in situations where feedback takes form of criticism in so long as we can lead the conversation without necessarily controlling it. Further, social media can play a critical role in averting and mitigating crises. Here’s a great article by Shoutlet on how to prevent a full-blown social media crisis.

I would really like to hear your thoughts on this situation or any similar situation in which you have found yourself. This is a learning experience for many communications professional as it is for businesses and prominent personalities. Thanks for reading, sharing your thoughts, and sharing this blog on your social media network!


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