By March 12, 2013 0 Comments Read More →

When good ideas go bad: PMHadfield lacked protective heat shields

PMHadfield-tweetThe Prime Minister has been going through something of a social media rebirth over the last few months. Yes… the man whose tweets were once so stiff and impersonal that a tweet congratulating his son for winning a hockey game ‘against the big kids’ caught political observers completely by surprise. It didn’t stick. The PM quickly returned to his comfortable, controlled style.

(I still think Your Interview with PM Harper was a good idea even it wasn’t perfect and became a one-of.)

That was until the end of 2012. Shortly after Andrew MacDougall took the reigns as his Director of Communication, the PM’s online style has become much more relaxed, energetic and interesting.

Unfortunately for the PM, things did not go his way this past weekend. An attempt to turn his upcoming live online chat with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield into an opportunity to engage young Canadians became a bit of a disaster. The PM’s now-famous #PMHadfield tweet invited children to submit questions to him (the PM) from which he would choose to ask Commander Hadfield. The tweet became an opening for the public, and scientists in particular, to issue a flurry of criticisms in the form of questions.

In all, 765 unique Twitter handles issued 2,090 tweets, a significant majority of which creatively challenged the PM on issues including science policy, his official letter of condolence to Venezuela, scandals involving the Senate, the F-35 jet purchase, oil sands development and election robocalls — to name just a few. Of course, there was also the meta-chat which always seems to find its way into energized discussions (add this post to the mix).

PMHadfield-entities

The 10 most active tweeters combined for 407 hits (19%). Mentions in the news (5), forums including Reddit (6), blogs (3) and Facebook (7) mostly reported on the blowback rather than contributing to it.

PMHadfield-activity

The buzzgraph that follows shows the mostly commonly connected terms in the chatter. Terms including gag, mocked, muzzles, muzzling, scientists, fetid and backfires clearly illustrates things didn’t go quite the way the PM and his staff had hoped.

PMHadfield-buzzgraph

As one of my students noted this evening, the effort clearly overlooked the fact that Commander Hadfield is extremely engaged online. He’s a PR dream for international space programs, taking the time to not only share his experience with us earth-bound folk, but to respond to questions. The PM’s effort to wedge himself in the communication supply-chain was doomed to criticism.

Analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos Heartbeat.

Featured photo: Explosion posted to Flickr by gynti_46.

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About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.