September 29, 2022

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Yes, Governor Brownback should be monitoring social media (and other thoughts on the Tweeting teen incident)

Yes, Governor Brownback should be monitoring social media (and other thoughts on the Tweeting teen incident)

As I’m sure many are aware, a Kansas teen popped off a somewhat inconsequential tweet that Governor Brownback’s communications director found offensive. The comms director complained, and just like that, a molehill was made into a mountain. The governor has since apologized, and lo, another social media kerfuffle has been born. If you want to read an interesting assessment of Politicians Behaving Badly Online, check out Gini Dietrich’s post.

Much–possibly far too much–has been made of this already, so from my corner few random takeaways from this incident:

  • A piece on written by Dean Obeidallah, a comedian, makes one of the more boneheaded statements that I’ve seen, somehow insinuating that monitoring social media is a waste of taxpayer money by saying: “Is the governor spending taxpayer dollars to monitor his critics on social media? […] However, it is still troubling that state funds are used to monitor social media websites to determine if anyone is mocking the governor.  It has an eerie Big Brother feel, not to mention that it’s a waste of tax payer dollars.” Um, yeah. Clearly they are monitoring, as they should be and not just for “those mocking the governor.” Critics, supporters, reporters, constituents–it doesn’t really matter who is saying what, but yes, the governor’s office should be monitoring social media, and yes, this is an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars.That statement easily could have gone the other way–“Is the governor a Luddite–why isn’t his staff monitoring social media?” if they hadn’t been watching. There are plenty of legitimate, solid examples of government agencies monitoring social media and using Twitter to effectively communicate.
  • This is more evidence that Klout doesn’t matter. I made the offhand comment on Gini’s post that perhaps someone had checked Emma Sullivan’s Klout score and decided it was okay to reprimand her because she wasn’t an influencer. I was only partially kidding. Emma’s Klout score a few days ago (in other words, before and when this incident happened) was 17. Today she has a Klout score of 65. If you are a communicator and use Klout to determine who to respond to (or ignore) remember this incident, please. She went from a 17 to a 65 practically overnight. She hasn’t magically become more influential–she has become more popular. She had 65 followers, she now has 15,000. Influence, however, is trickier. Yes, she now has followers from news and media outlets, but are they following her for further pithy commentary on Kansas politics? If so, they might be surprised to receive updates about the new Breaking Dawn film.
  • Staffers can be a strangely loyal bunch. The biggest problem here is that the communications director didn’t think about how this could play out; instead, she reacted. And she got burned–lesson learned (I hope). It happens. Think first, react second. Always.
  • I wonder how much of this incident was fueled by local mores and manners. Midwesterners are a polite bunch, and the teen’s tweet, while totally free speech and all that, was quite frankly a bit rude. It wasn’t a clever or erudite comment about how the governor’s policies are wrong or misguided. It’s fine to use this case as an example of how important it is to understand social media before you respond to something. But it wasn’t a thoughtful comment, so let’s not turn this teen into some modern-day Rosa Parks.
  • Many politicians seem to be on a “delay” button when it comes to embracing and understanding social media. This is confounding to me, as almost everyone involved in politics understands the need to connect with voters. They understand shaking hands, door-to-door knocking, and having coffee at the local diner. Why is social media so troublesome for them? This should have been one of the first groups to understand the power to connect.


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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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