The Twitterati is up in arms! How dare the Government of India (GOI) block some Twitter accounts? How dare do they even think of banning Twitter and / or Social Media, in general?!
Yes, a free society does not like curbs put on its freedom. And the recent move by the GOI to block some Twitter accounts, and other similar suggestions that have come, are not appreciated by netizens at all.
And yet, for a moment, let’s consider the government’s dilemma.
On very sensitive matters like communal tensions and rioting, if there are speculative rumours floating around, or if someone or some bodies are purposely causing damage by provoking people via a false propaganda, the government is at a loss to manage the situation. And at such times, knee-jerk responses like banning social media etc. get proposed!
Much like the developed western world’s vendetta against an Assange and Wikileaks, the Indian government’s response to social media, is not surprising.
However whether it is the US / UK movement against Wikileaks or GOI going after Twitter accounts, these responses are the wrong responses under the circumstances.
You stem a Wikileaks (IF you manage to do so) and some other “leak” will emerge.
You plug a few Twitter handles and others will emerge.
Much as a world living on ‘clouds’ of all kind cannot fully control leakages of information, so also, today’s connected world with the consumer / citizen at the helm CANNOT be controlled by knee-jerk blocks of some social media accounts.
In fact, the real challenge for governments, much as it has been for brands, is to deal with the fact that the word, “control” got out of the dictionary a while back!
Yes, brand managers and CEOs were used to have “control” over the communication that reached the public. Some of them still believe that they have the control. It takes a while for them to realize that they do not control anything anymore! Control, if at all, has now moved into the hands of the consumer on social media. You can’t get your PR team to “manage” what gets written about you. People will blog and tweet and post their status messages about your brand, just as they please. And you can’t do anything about that!
It is high time that governments realize this too! Gone are the days when the only form of mass communication was Doordarshan and which the government was able to control. In the era of social media now, the public will speak what they feel like, be it in the voice of a fake PMO office, or the voices of common individuals. The politicians and the bureaucrats and the GOI in general, has to understand this, appreciate this, and deal with this!
But then, there is false propaganda on sensitive matters, you’d ask? What about that?
Well, don’t brands face that? Haven’t competitors, disgruntled ex-employees and others who held some grudges against companies, not spread malicious rumours about brands and companies?
These aspects are part of the reality of the day! And the answer to these too, is NOT about banning and blocking, but again, dealing with things!
Let’s understand how brands handle the real and the false negativity on social media?
- By setting up listening posts (“social media monitoring”) so they are not taken by surprise and can deal with issues proactively, once they discover them
- By having a well-defined protocol and a workflow to manage normal responses to negativity
- By also having a plan to handle and manage a potential PR crisis, while praying hard that such crisis actually do not happen at all!
- By ring-fencing the brand well to ensure that miscreant activity is curtailed and as and when it happens, it is dealt with, firmly
- In the event of false information that cannot be recognized easily by people, going out with the correct information, with proof, with details, with credibility, to give “their side of the story”
- By owning up to their own mistakes once in a while, being honest to admit those, not hesitating to say ‘sorry, we screwed up, but we are working to fix it’
- By creating their own content on social media, giving out interesting, lesser known information, so that consumers have a peak at the real story
- Most importantly though, by being out there, ‘talking’ to the consumers, engaging with them, establishing a dialogue with them, winning their confidence, in normal times, and not just when there is a crisis!
GOVERNMENTS ALSO NEED TO FOLLOW THE SAME STRATEGY!!
Yes, governments are no different to brand managers, in this respect. The earlier that they understand and accept this, the better it is for them.
The knee-jerk reactions of banning this and blocking that, will NOT work. Remember that the Ganesh idols drank milk in Mumbai, way before the advent of social media!
So if a piece of news has to viral, IT WILL.
The only way to prepare and deal with this connected world, is to join it, and work with it.
And if government departments feel that this is overwhelming in terms of volume, and they do not have adequate or capable resources, then like brands, they may need to take help of social media agencies for the same.
Yes, why not?!