Leash and Muzzle: Social Media Program Tools?

One of the great characteristics of social media is that it gives a voice to brands. Interaction with customers and other people enables brands to shed their impersonal, aloof nature. Rather than talk at people using mass media channels, social media lets brands and people talk with each other. The unbridled communication exchanges bring transparency to business relationships. But, are there limits to how personal and frank brand representatives should be in social media?

This question has arisen again after a vice president with the New York Giants engaged in candid exchanges with fans upset with the team’s offseason personnel moves. Pat Hanlon did not pull punches in his replies to fans’ criticism of the Giants. Some of his tweets this week (@giantspathanlon) include:

“We don't play on paper. You know what you can do w/ that paper?” His reply to a fan’s tweet: “on paper they ARE worse. no matter who signs your checks”

“This is great. We usually get to play two regular season games before people tell us we aren't worth a shit.”

“Can you say we're worse, knucklehead?” His reply to a fan’s tweet: ”can you say definitively the Giants are better than last year?”

Entertaining banter between Hanlon and Giants fans (and probably some Giants haters), but is this the best use of social media to engage people and build a brand? Can you imagine what would happen if this were the vice president of communications for Walmart getting into it with customers or special interest advocates criticizing the company? The executive would likely be reprimanded or even fired. No signs of either happening to Pat Hanlon.

Would it be better if Pat Hanlon bit his lip (or put his hands in his pockets) and refrain from responding to criticisms of his employer? Let the team’s performance on the field do the talking, with the ideal being Hanlon having the opportunity to gloat when the Giants have a great season. Social media provides a forum for listening to what people have to say about your brand- good, bad, and otherwise. But, listening can be difficult if social media is used as a platform for challenging people who are critical or oppose you.

When it comes to social media communication strategy, a figurative leash and muzzle can be valuable tools for resisting the urge to “discuss” issues in public. Listen and learn, but avoid the urge to lash out.

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