Paul Holmes 28 Feb 2011 // 10:35PM GMT
One of the things social media does is allow an organization’s stakeholders to make their feelings—including some very negative feelings—felt. From a corporate point of view, is this a bug or a feature? Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asked American football fans how they would like to see the game improved and received some pretty hostile responses—not surprising, given that management is currently on a path likely to lead to a player lockout—including several suggestions that Goodell step down. The consensus appears to be that this was a striking example of “social media fail.” According to the sports site Fanhouse.com, “Trial lawyers know that the first rule of asking questions is to be cautious in asking an open-ended question where you may not like the answer. That's not a bad guideline for corporations to follow when using social media…. So asking disgruntled fans what their opinions are to see the game improved is an invitation for online abuse. In which case: mission accomplished.” Actually, I think it’s a terrible guideline for corporations to follow when using social media. Let’s be clear: social media did not create whatever ill-will toward the NFL was manifest in these responses; nor did Goodell’s question. What social media did was provide a focal point for the criticism. From the NFL’s point of view, that has to be a good thing. It provides the organization with an opportunity to address any criticism based on misinformation and misunderstanding, and—even more important—change any behaviors that are damaging the organization’s reputation. So it’s unfair to characterize this as a social media fail. Of course, it’s also too early to characterize it as a social media success. That will depend on how the NFL responds to all this criticism. I’m not suggesting that Goodell should step down. But he should obviously think about addressing some of the reasons fans think he should.