Lessons from President Sarkozy: why silencing social media never pays
February 29, 2012 3 Comments
Let’s face it, there is not a single politician with a spotless reputation. Whether it be US President Barack Obama or Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, poll ratings typically venture no higher than 50% and citizens can cite countless examples of errors and failures. Yes, behind the glamorous title, politics is quite unforgiving.
Silence and you shall see.
But just because you are up for reelection and you don’t have a pristine track record doesn’t mean that you should go off silencing your critics – which has been what Nicolas Sarkozy’s social media team has been doing. Ok, in all fairness, he isn’t silencing criticism but rather parody accounts impersonating him on various social media platforms – primarily Twitter.
Sarkozy himself only joined the microblogging platform a few weeks ago, after announcing his intention to run for reelection. But shortly after he made the announcement, the Twitter accounts parodying the current French president began disappearing. Some of the accounts silenced included @_NicolasSarkozy, which has been up and running with no problem since September 2010. You can read more about the situation here.
Impersonation is just an excuse.
To this day, Sarkozy remains the only French presidential candidate to have gone about silencing parodies – and it has not gone over particularly well. Some have argued in his favor, reminding everyone that Steve Jobs faced a similar situation with the account @ceostevejobs last year and that impersonation is a big problem on social media platforms – Facebook included. Then again, nobody has ever mistaken satirical cartoon for a true photograph or marionettes – like Les Guignols de L’info – for real people. Why should social media be any different?
Will the real Sarkozy please stand up?
Since his decision to “silence” the impersonators, the reaction has been 2-fold. First, as he is the only French Presidential candidate to take this anti-social strategy, he’s been criticized for everything from his lack of humor to his dictatorial way of censuring people.
But the second reaction has clearly underlined what Sarkozy & Co. didn’t know about social media; while Sarkozy may be able to silence a majority of accounts on Twitter (yes, he hasn’t silenced them all!), he hasn’t been able to stop impersonation on other platforms. Ah yes, social media is actually more than just Twitter and Facebook. Check out his rather hilarious fake Pinterest profile, for example. Ultimately, rather than silencing the impersonators, Sarkozy simply encouraged them to proliferate and go elsewhere…
Listen before you say shhhhh…
This is not the first time a social media strategy has involved suppressing commentary rather than listening. There are dozens of examples to choose from; Nestle, Southwest Airlines and more. The problem with each of the social media disasters is in the response. Some companies simply erase negative feedback, some give unsatisfactory replies. But put yourself in the shoes of the person complaining. You’re probably not unreasonable, you just want an explanation and perhaps a little compensation.
Verified accounts: the social anti-identity theft.
But back to my point. Not only should social media be more about listening and responding, but users or companies who worry about “social identity theft” or impersonation should consider looking into verified accounts. Twitter, in fact, outlines that verified accounts were developed to help those that may need to distinguish their real account from fake ones. As far as Sarkozy is concerned, actively promoting and educating people about his verified account would have been a far better strategy than trying to crush the opposition. In the meantime, he’ll have to deal with the dramatic increase in parodies across the entire social web.