Kansas Gov. Bungles Social Media Crisis Management

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    What NOT to do

    Just as with businesses, it’s smart for prominent individuals to set up regular searches for mentions of their names on the web. While Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s got this part right, assigning communication director Sherriene Jones-Sontag to monitor negative commentary on social media, more than a few things were lacking in their latest social media crisis management effort.

    The whole incident was kicked off by an 18-year-old Kansas high schooler’s joking tweet following a Youth in Government field trip to the state’s capitol, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” The following quote, from a CNN article by Dean Obeidallah, explains the rest:

    Jones-Sontag, finding this 73-character tweet by a high school student a threat to the good name of the governor, bolted into action. She contacted the Youth in Government organizers and expressed her outrage over the tweet. In turn, the event administrators, no doubt concerned that the governor’s director of communication had taken the time to contact them, informed Sullivan’s high school principal.

    Sullivan soon found herself in her principal’s office being scolded for nearly an hour. Bottom line: The principal has mandated the student write a letter of apology to the governor that is due Monday.

    Sullivan, who says she was making a political comment on Brownback’s conservative policies that she disagrees with, announced her refusal to apologize for criticizing the governor.

    When negative commentary pops up, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Is this even worth responding to?”

    Yes, it’s important to acknowledge concerns and respond to complaints, but in this case, the post was clearly a one-off that would reach a bare minimum of eyes.

    By responding in the matter it did, Brownback’s office not only gave a ton of publicity to a disparaging comment that would have otherwise gone unnoticed but also made the Governor look like a bully in the process.

    Bad marks Brownback.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is a writer, publicist, and SEO associate for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]