I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now, and decided to publish this series of events as a very accurate portrayal of how one should NOT handle a social media flare-up. This involves myself and a ‘Strategic Communications’ outfit named Fraser Strategies, based out of Sudbury, ON.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, Fraser Strategies (operated by Conway Fraser) published a Facebook post critiquing the Twitter engagement of a certain Canadian politician – Justin Trudeau. His post was fairly straightforward, arguing the following:

“He has 163,000 followers on Twitter. But…he only follows about 630 back. I’m not inventing the wheel when I say social media is supposed to be a two-way conversation and not one person simply blasting out one-way messages. Also, the basic rule of media in general applies to social media and that is: CONTENT IS KING. In other words, you need to post interesting content that humanizes you (especially for politicians).”

He finishes by stating that “I want to emphasize this is a conversation about social media strategy and not one about political dogma.”

Subsequently, one of my Facebook friends ‘liked’ this post, making it appear on my mini-feed. I glanced at the post, and just as quickly as I had read it, I had objections. I spend a large portion of my time studying (and practicing) social media management/strategy, so I posted the following response:

“The problem with this post is that it relies on a premise: that following = engagement. Especially on Twitter, this is far from true. Many organizations get far better engagement by following certain hashtags or online dialogues, and not every single post an individual/org may make. In the political realm it is even more true because people will often engage directly with [Trudeau], allowing him to respond. I can see the value in reciprocity, but I think the premise of this post is flawed.”

In my mind, this was a simple idea: that no matter who the figure or organization is, the ‘follower count’ has no impact on engagement. One can easily be following 100,000 people and never engage on Twitter, just as easily as one can engage a LOT by only following 100 people.

The initial response to my post was, while (in my opinion) poorly-reasoned/not in response to the meat of argument, somewhat logical:

“Thanks for the post, Taylor. I agree with much of what you say. If I may, however, state that the premise of the post is not ‘following = engagement’…that is over-simplying the post, in my opinion. The premise is that social media is a two-way conversation which I believe you are also saying in a different way — and that content is king in social media (just like with any other media). Also, much of your post addresses how ‘organizations’ use Twitter and I agree with your assessment on organizations. The only issue, however, is that Trudeau is not an ‘organization’ — he is a politician who’s trying to become Prime Minister. The comparative study you should be using is something like Barack Obama who successfully used social media to become President 4 years ago. He has a follower/following ratio of 32:1. Trudeau’s is 257:1. What has your experience been in using social media for political purposes?”

But that is where the logic ends. Now, it gets weird.

Up until this point, I had not mentioned anything about any political feelings or attitudes – nor did I even defend Trudeau specifically. But regardless of these facts… here is what came up a mere 2 minutes later:

“Taylor, critique is acceptable in any discussion — but so is disclosure. A very quick search shows that you are a member of the Liberal Party. There’s nothing wrong with that — however, I believe it’s relevant context to disclose given the critical nature of the post. It’s also worth noting that the only other critical posts have been from Liberals who did not disclose their partisanship. I am not a member of any political party and I did not want to this to become a platform for political brinksmanship. I do appreciate all the comments and feedback however the potential or perceived conflict disclosures, I believe, are relevant information for everyone reading the posts.http://www.liberal.ca/community/taylor-mann/

Fraser Strategies, and Conway Fraser, get it wrong

^ My Reaction ^

At this point, I turn to a friend and give a “what the (insert expletive word)” look. And then I reply (and yes, get a bit sassy):

“Ok so your critique is not only completely illogical, but also fairly childish. I don’t particularly care that it is Justin Trudeau or any other political figure.  In fact, nor does my political affiliation have any impact on my professional opinions. I wasn’t engaging on a political level, but bravo for stooping so low as to not effectively rebut my critique and attack my (fairly big-tent) political affiliations.

To deal with your actual critique, it is clear that your understanding of ‘two-way communication’ concepts are as facile as your social media etiquette. The number of people one follows is quite meaningless on Twitter, as one can pay absolutely zero attention to them (as Obama does). Moreover, with the use of Tweetdeck, you can track hashtags, concepts, organizations, people and lists, which I do in my professional capacity.

But yes, that was a very successful troll.”

What happens next? I get banned. Or, more accurately, I get told “I appreciate you reinforcing my point. Political dogma is blinding”… and then banned. I find this out because I go to publish an edited version of the post above, and am told “you are no longer part of this page”. Great.

His explaination? “Sorry, folks. I had to ban Taylor. I can deal with disagreement and critique but not childish name-calling which is what happens when one has exhausted all intellectual argument.” (Fraser Strategies)

Let’s get a couple things straight.

1. Politics? What politics!
I don’t believe there was any discussion in my first point of politics. The same critique could be said of a handful of politicians from across the spectrum. Either way, I’m not even a huge Trudeau fan!

2. This undermines any credibility his argument would have carried. 
Sure, I think he was wrong, but I was also somewhat interested by his comparisons to Obama. Now, I think he is wrong and I have no interest in anything this ‘communications agency’ says (plus I am writing this blog post).

3. This is not how to deal with critical responses on social media.
Let me assume I was wrong, and I was being an ass. Let’s assume I was being a partisan hack. The response is not ‘ban this Mann!’. The response should be to let the voice stand and for people to judge me as a partisan jerk. That is what I am doing here. I could be totally wrong about this entire affair, but it is still better to have the perspective out there. Short of me making disparaging personal remarks or anything in line with racism or hate speech, the answer to ‘person saying things I strongly disagree with on Facebook’ is to let them be wrong, or to say that you disagree and move on. This action fundamentally goes against the type of engagement and ‘two way conversation’ that the author professes to support.

4. This company is giving advice!
I find it slightly mind-boggling that this company (or more accurately, Conway Fraser) will  be giving advice on how companies should facilitate positive interaction. If you play out this framework with a potential client, let’s see how that would go…

Client + situation: A speaker on women’s rights posts an info-graphic on inequality in sports. A person comes on and levels a respectful critique against the client’s assertion that all sports must be gender-inclusive.

On Fraser Strategies’ advice, the client gives a somewhat coherent (but respectful) response, whilst immediately Googling this sinister Facebook user! They find out he actually is part of an all-male golf club (ah HAH!), and so writes “I believe that before you stated your non-offensive and logical critique that you should have stated your membership in any gender-exclusive clubs or organzations. Because you did not, your views are invalid.”

The Facebook person (who is actually a fan!) writes back, denying that that fact is relevant, and even in light of his membership, his views stand.

Next, the client bans him. Thanks for saving the day, Fraser Strategies + Conway Fraser!

This does not seem like the kind of social media discourse we should be having, nor does it seem like a positive protocol for any business (whether it is Fraser Strategies, or one of their clients) to adopt. I was fairly flabbergasted by Fraser Strategies’ actions here, but they are not that rare. Businesses going into the social stream need to have rigirous policy for dealing with these types of events, and they also need a bit of thick skin. People are not always going to agree with you, but there are better ways to deal with such disagreements.

Here’s hoping Conway Fraser and Fraser Strategies take this play out of their playbook.

Further Reading (for those looking to develop their own protocols)
“Tips for Handling Negative Comments and Trolls on Social Media” (not that I was trolling)
“8 ways to deal with negative comments in online communities”
“5 Tips to Dealing with Negative Facebook Comments”