Help! I Can’t Control My Twitter Chatter: Shaping social exchange to represent your brand, a case study

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This last week, a national convention for a major organization took place. As part of the event, the organization launched a special Twitter channel designed to provide updates and information that would be (in theory) useful to convention goers. The organization also sought to channel conversation about the convention into a similarly named # conversation. Like so many organizations, this one is fraught with politics. This blog post is not about those politics, but about the PR implications of a social-media-tactic gone (potentially) wrong.

Basically, one party within the organization was far more active on the defined # feed than the opposing side. As a result, when reading the feed, the casual at-home observer may have been inclined to believe that the style, tone, content, and attitude of the feed was representative of the entire organization.

This isn’t necessarily too problematic except that the tone of the posts tended to lean on what my good friend @wordpost would define as “the snarky side,” and were often extremely critical of the event program itself. I’m not suggesting that you want to scrub your Twitter chatter, but normally, in social spaces we PR-types like to say that the community will “self-correct” intensely negative commentary. In the case of this #, however, the opposing side simply didn’t engage.

The result is a very interesting body of content that one could conceivably use as a descriptor of the entity as a whole. But it would be an incomplete picture.

So the problem is this: the organization’s communications team (most of whom I know well) wanted to use new communications platforms to share great updates and information, and yes – create conversation – that was inclusive of the many viewpoints in the total exchange happening at the event.

What happened instead was that one viewpoint dominated the stream, and has a potential to cast a less than favorable light on the tone and temper of the whole group and the whole event. The organization never engaged with these voices – in fact, after initiating the # conversation, the organization kept pumping out news into the stream in an RSS fashion and in a sense “ignored” the other chatter.

This raises some questions:

  1. Was the strategy flawed: Should the organization have used this particular tactic in the first place, given what it knew about the one-sided perspective of the dominant users of the platform? Why or why not?
  2. How should the strategy have changed: Should the organization have stopped using the # when it became associated with predominantly one-sided partisanship?
  3. Was silence golden: Was it appropriate for the organization to not engage others conversing in the # stream? Or should they have tried to create a balanced conversation?

Overall, in my view what resulted was a poor use of this social tactic. Because the official organization continued to pump out messages into the designated # stream, it gave a sense of legitimacy to the stream. And because predominantly one perspective was using the stream, there is a sense of affinity that could be drawn between the official voice and the other comments.

The issue here is that the organization did little to manage the stream. Was it appropriate to “let it ride”?

There are implications for any of us using Twitter for events or in contexts where there are deeply opposing viewpoints being exchanged. What happens when only one side gets “verbal” in your social stream? How do you keep the peace as the organizational core? How do you redirect a negative tone so that it doesn’t reflect poorly on your organization?

All too often, I think, we forget that social spaces are social. Applying good old-fashioned rules of social graces to our activities in these places makes sense. If I walked into a room as the official representative of an organization and started a dialogue – and then let the dialogue take on a life of its own, while I just kept pumping out RSS-type data, it would be strange. I think that very often we are seeing organizations use Twitter or other social media without a total sense of what’s possible (not what it “appropriate – see my previous posts on the dangers of telling people they are using the platform “wrong.”)

For the organization featured in this case study, so much more was possible; not in terms of halting the exchanges that did occur, but in shaping the dialogue to have been more representative of the organization “brand” as a whole.

What do you think?

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