Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Social Media – Tough love for politics and business

People can sometimes overstate the difference that things like social media have made to politics and business. These tools are only in their infancy and it will take a full generation before we can say for sure the full extent of their influence. What we do know however, is that they have changed certain elements of how we do business and things will never return to the way they were.

I thought about this as a result of something Tom Doorley did on Twitter. He tweeted a picture from a coffee shop and expressed his disappointment in a product. As Tom is a food critic I saw nothing unusual in that. However there was some debate. The point was raised as to whether he should have included the owner of the chain in the tweet or sent a Direct Message to him. The point was understandably that this might be considered good manners. That’s were I have a problem though and why we need to buck up both in politics and business.

First of all on Twitter, I rarely have time to find the handle of everyone when I want to tweet. So unless I interact with that person on a daily basis I don’t include them on every tweet. You see, I have found myself in the same position as Doorley. I write on politics and have had politicians who know me, complain to me about something I wrote. It is always asked why I didn’t contact them first or why I didn’t discuss it or let them know. There is a presumption that because I follow them on Twitter or because I am friendly with them in the real world I should act differently.

I have a big problem with this. If a politician says something I think is plainly wrong then I have to say that immediately. I can’t criticise one politician with ease because they never met me or don’t follow me on twitter, but then be more cautious and circumspect when dealing with a politician I do know or I do follow. Anyone can see how that breaks all the rules and is highly unfair. Should I berate a politician I’ve never met because of their support for a particular cut while at the same time talking to another and getting their view first because that politican brought me to dinner or said something nice about me? What does that mean for my reputation?

I make the point to politicians that many people disagree with my tweets, many people disagree with my articles and an many people say an awful lot of stuff about me if I’m on something like ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ or a radio show. I never expect that anyone is going to contact me or personally let me know that they are going to disagree with what I said. Many don’t include my handle in tweets about articles or comments and that is perfectly fine, that’s the real world. Yes it’s my business, my income and my reputation but when I go out there and say something that’s what I have to take. If they criticise me then I need to look at what I say and re-evaluate to make sure I’m happy with it or to see if I am in error.

The world has changed and politicians cannot expect to control media in the same way. They must be prepared to face the barrage of opposing voices. Journalists too must accept that comments can no longer be made in isolation. If I write a column then the modern world allows anyone to reply to it, comment on it or challenge me. That is as it should be.

Business is no different. I sometimes get asked to work with business on their PR strategies and this is often the toughest point to get home. The customer owes you nothing. They paid their money and that’s that. In the modern world every single customer is a reviewer of your product or service. They can have thousands of followers or Twitter and Facebook and their message has enormous reach. This is a good thing. Business needs, more than ever, to get things right, first time, every time. Too many businesses think that somehow their friends, their community, or their customers should be loyal or friendly. They expect that they should have a chance to respond. You don’t get that anymore. You have your chance to respond when the customer hands over their money; if you fail and don’t deliver on their expectations then they will reach for their phone and do the damage without ever talking to you.

Politicians so often complain that they were misquoted or that people don’t understand what they are trying to say. That can happen but it still remains an excuse, what has really occurred is that the politician communicated badly. That’s their fault, no one else’s. Asking people to read the full statement, or hear the full interview is a cop out. The modern world is an unforgiving place for communication and we must accept that. A good politician, like a good business, adjusts to this and reacts. Criticism is something you can build on. Don’t dismiss it, take it on board and try rectifying the matter. Whether you are looking for money or votes from people you must remember it is you who needs them more than they ever do you. They owe you nothing.

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3 thoughts on “Social Media – Tough love for politics and business

  1. Well done with the speed of your response. I’m impressed. I totally agree with most of what you say however, my point was that Mr. Doorley never mentioned the café in question but attached a damning photo (cake sitting on paper napkin with logo) to his tweet. That’s not giving a business a fair chance to respond as it was more likely to go unnoticed by the owner but damage the reputation of said café. When you Johnny write on politics in general, you never attach a photo of… say for eg. a drunk Brian Cowen as that would not be fair because you wouldn’t have mentioned him in your piece on behaviour of politicians or whatever. I have no problem with the customer/voter expressing their opinion. Its great and refreshing . All Im saying is giving someone every chance to respond is good manners and playing the game properly.

  2. Interesting post Johnny.

    I think I’d tend towards agreeing with the commenter above in terms of social media and business. If I’m paying for a service and it doesn’t meet the standards I expect, I think the logical thing for me to do is address it directly with the service provider out of courtesy, and give them a chance to redeem themselves first. Then, if it’s not resolved to my satisfaction, I’m happy to send it into the public domain. Where businesses have set themselves up to interact on social media, I’m happy to do both of those things at the same time – in many cases, there’s a mutual benefit. The problem is usually resolved faster for me, and the business gets to demonstrate their ability to respond quickly and effectively to customers, which can only be a good thing.

    Public representatives are different. The are not short of advisers and it’s rare you’ll find politicians going on solo runs. I’m not a paying customer of a politician. In fact, I’m paying them to represent my interests; so commentary is fair game. It’s their job, as you say, to communicate effectively. And there is no hiding from criticism any more – it says a lot about a politician if they take that criticism on board and learn from it.

    Social media is so often billed as the be-all and end-all, but in reality, it forms a very small portion of a bigger strategy. Its role is also exaggerated greatly by the fact that the media mines twitter so much for content and “hot topics”. It’s a tool that can be used to good effect, but to an as-yet limited extent, but watching it develop is fascinating in itself.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. Very interesting. I suppose I don’t really differentiate between politics and business I think one has a lot to learn from the other. The main point you both make very well is that perhaps its ‘fair’ to advise a business before you tweet. Maybe I am just a bad customer but I dont get that kind of rule at all. I see it very simply. If I walk in and pay €10 for something, I am giving you a chance to meet my expectations, that is the opportunity of the business. If the product or service does not match my expectations, having paid my money, then I see no requirement from manners or fair play to have to talk to the business. This is what we have to learn, we cant expect people to do us a favour by coming to us about it, because that is what it is a ‘favour’. The management guru Tom Peters once said that the customer who complains is helping you, the customer you should fear is the one who walks out and says nothing. I dont feel a need to help a business if it takes my money and fails me. Sometimes I might approach them about it but they should not expect that I will do so. I am entitled to just comment straight off without referring back to them and that is perfectly fair. They did have their chance when I walked through the door.

    I do see your point though. Politicians equally are entitled to say, look, listen to me in entirety, hear out the argument, read the reports, but we all know its not going to happen. They need to accept that and deal with it. So too does business. As a writer I like it when people clarify a point with me before commenting, I like it when friends tell me or ask me something before telling the world I’m just crazy. However, I have no expectation that it should ever be so and will not criticise anyone for just saying it. If they dont like my writing or disagree or think Im crazy then they are entitled to do that and it is my failure that I didnt convince them otherwise once I wrote the piece in the first place.

    I say this in an effort to be helpful of course. The rule of getting it right first time, is so important. It doesnt and cant always work but I suppose what I really want business and politicians to see is that they have to strive to that because thats how it works now.

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