Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne tried to “engage” Ontarians on Twitter but ended up getting hammered by the trolls and an unflattering news story about her tweet and head shakes from pundits (3:15 mark in the video) in the process:
I want to know what you’re making for Thanksgiving dinner this year! Send me your ideas with #LoveONTfood on Twitter and Instagram.
— Kathleen Wynne (@Kathleen_Wynne) October 9, 2013
After I mentioned the minor kerfuffle, one of my fellow travelers, (Liberal staffer) Taylor Scollon, figured there is not much of a story here:
@heybrettbell trolls on twitter? well I never
— Taylor Scollon (@taylorscollon) October 10, 2013
Trolls on Twitter? Taylor’s right: they are as common as hashtags. But trolls responding to politicians aren’t exactly noteworthy. So why did Wynne’s harmless tweet end up as a story and how can you avoid it? A few points on how not to be an easy target:
Open Ended Questions Give You Open Ended Results
There is an old adage in politics that you never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. That rule applies here in spades. Open ended questions or statements where you invite any kind of response will result in the kind of results we saw here. It was an easy story for the media to write: Premier tries to make small holiday talk, gets an earful. It would have been advisable to talk about what she was serving, rather than setting herself up for some pretty harsh responses to the question she (or her staff) posed publicly.
Timing Is Everything
Part of the reason the tweet was notable was due to the fact it came one day after a crushing report from the province’s Auditor General. At best, you appear blissfully unaware of (or don’t care) how the public will judge these revelations; at worst you are clumsily trying to change the channel. Either way, it doesn’t look good.
Engaging For Appearances
I’ve noticed a trend these days where those who manage high profile figures like Premier Wynne think there is something to be gained by “engaging” followers on regular everyday matters like what they are serving for Thanksgiving. I suppose it sheds a more personable and/or approachable light on those in the public eye. But any authenticity is muted when it is done simply for appearance sake. A quick scan of Premier Wynne’s timeline shows many questions asked, but not a lot (if any) follow up to responses (unless you’re a Liberal VP).
Given the circumstances, the whole exercise appeared contrived and inauthentic: the exact opposite of what was (presumably) trying to be accomplished. If you aren’t doing anything with the information – or worse, not even reading it – why are you inquiring with your followers in the first place? To merely say you did? In my view, that’s worse than not asking the question to begin with.
The Ontario Liberals, particularly those around Premier Wynne, understand social media. Those managing Wynne’s Twitter account do a commendable job of posting content regularly (including photos on Instagram) and responding to followers (when it suits them, natch. But there’s no crime in that). But it’s tough to argue that the tweet in question was worth the headache.
What would I have done? Part of Team Wynne’s tweet was spot on: asking for a photo response via Instagram. A great (and relatively safe) way to show you are engaging with your community. It’s easy to post a snarky tweet if you are an opponent, but a much bigger effort to create a worthy photo. That will help thin the trolls. Further, I would have phrased it not as a question (“What’s for dinner?”) but a statement (“Show me what you’re cooking this weekend”) so you’re not leading with your chin. It’s easier to dismiss trolls when they aren’t answering the question you asked.
Without a doubt, trolls are here to stay on the Internet; they are part of the deal when you step into the online space, especially if you’re a public figure. But you can take simple steps to ensure your message remains the story, not the responses from the Twitter trolls.