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Why MP aids need training on social media management

24 November 2014 | 05:15 am

Another politician gaffe hit the headlines this week, leading to the demise of Emily Thornberry a senior labour MP, who was forced to swiftly resign from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet following an ill thought out tweet.


The critics couldn’t wait to jump in with accusations of ‘snobbery’ following Ms Thornberry’s tweet of a semi-detached house draped in flags with a white van parked outside. Her default position was to defend her position, quoted in the Guardian as saying

“I was brought up on a council estate and I’ve never seen a house where people can’t see out of the window because of England flags. It was just trying to give, to the people who follow me on Twitter, a kind of picture of what the Rochester by election is like.”

In desperation she later went on to say that “People should fly the England flag with pride!”

But the end was in sight. She was forced to apologise and resign.

Many have paralleled the blunder with the now famous quote made by Gordon Brown back in 2010.

As he climbed into the back of his car following a visit his Sky news microphone caught him referring to 65 year old Mrs Duffy from Rochdale saying “She is just the sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be labour.

Not surprisingly, Brown went on the apologise for the insult described as a ‘Torpedo’ for the labour election campaign in the National press.

Where Brown and Thornberry differ is that one was saying something behind what he thought was closed doors! His political aid probably had a ‘bad day in the office’ feeling. But let’s face it - human error and the lack of a check on the microphone on-off button happens from time to time.

Whereas those advising Thornberry have more of a case to answer to. Why was she flying solo on social media, without support and checks in place to help her to get her message out more effectively? How many more Thornberry cases will we see before the election is over?

As those of you who have a public profile know, it is a big deal to have to tweet from the frontline. People can feel all kinds of emotional response – elation, fear, anger that can cloud their judgement at that exact second they press the post button. Yet the consequences can have devastating results for a brand, or in this case an entire party!

In the wake of the Scottish Referedum, which upped the stakes considerably on social media, the Thornberry case highlights a major dilemma for all parties. The next election (like it or not) will be fought and reinforced on social media. But what will be the support given to frontline campaigners.

The dilemma? To be seen to interfere by the party centrally, could be viewed as censorship, preventing us from getting to know the authentic candidate (warts and all).

But leaving so many party representatives to their own devices is also a recipe for disaster, with a lack of consistent messaging and tone of voice, not to mention the management of risk close to impossible.

The reality is that social media management solutions are sophisticated enough to allow a combination of both! If Thornberry’s twitter account had been plugged into a risk management platform, she could have created the content in draft, flagging for someone else to check it if she felt it could be contentious. She could have shared the responsibility for the creation of the tweet with a communications manager or simply passed it on as a campaign idea.

Increasingly, we are seeing campaign HQ’s associated with social media campaigns in other sectors, so why have the politicians been slow to get themselves organised? Are their advisors/ PR up to speed with the new channels of communications – well we wont have to wait long to see.

The social media management tools mirror the traditional role of the political aid or PR in supporting candidates in getting their message across effectively in the way they intended. They also have the added benefit of tactically giving the candidates options for listening in and targeting key voting demographics, again a relatively untapped tactic to date.

We will continue to watch the build up to the election campaign with interest and would encourage the parties to up the anti in supporting those who represent their brand in social environments.

Worryingly, in recent weeks and months we have witnessed some really careless communications practices on social media (across all parties) and we hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. We really hope that the parties get it together in time, to make it a meaningful election based on policy rather than social media blunder!

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management platform built for enterprise. We support organisations and their front line deliverers in keeping on messaging and upholding their brand reputation consistently.

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