Ground Zero Mosque, Nestle and Ford

Somewhat lost in the endless debates about the planned $100 million community center/mosque/lightning rod is the efficacy of using social media tools to influence the debate. As I have been following the – very passionate – debate, my mind has turned to thinking about other ways that both sides have used “new media” (or not-so-new-media) to project their points of view.

The Twitter account “Park51,” that which represents the group who wants to build the community center/mosque/lightning rod near Ground Zero in Manhattan has drawn some unwelcome controversy. Earlier this week, whomever was maintaining the account got snarky with some people who were posting @ messages to Park51.

According to the New York Post, the exchanges went pretty far south, quickly:

“If Haaretz likes publishing fables, perhaps they could go back to the Yiddish ones with parable,” they tweeted on Monday. In response to a critic who had “Amish” in his handle, Park51 tweeted, “Shouldn’t you be making butter?”

The next day, Park51 took down the post and apologized. It then posted an announcement that it was “introducing a new team” to take over the account.  “We are in the process of introducing a new team and are issuing apologies for any prior tweets that may have caused offense,” the mosque organizers wrote.

I am not — repeat NOT – going to debate the merits of building the community center/mosque/lightning rod near Ground Zero. So save your flames for another day. What the Twitter posts underscore is the need, especially in a controversial environment, to have AN ADULT IN CHARGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA, especially if you are at Ground Zero of a heated controversy.

I checked the Twitter account of Park51, and as I write this, they have a paltry 2,800 followers. North Korea has more than that, for Christ’s sake.  How many people do you think heard about or read online and offline articles about the Twitter snarking? Millions? It’s one big echo chamber, guys.

In a recent Media Bullseye Radio Roundtable, Jen Zingsheim and Doug Haslam discussed a call for Scott Monty of Ford – someone who really gets social media – to use interns to staff their Twitter accounts. Mr. Monty said “no, thanks.” And rightfully so. He knows that giving someone the keys to your social media accounts is giving them the Global Ford Bullhorn and allowing them to broadcast messages on your behalf.

It’s almost natural, however, for some organizations to put younger people in charge of social media. “Oh, he is all over Facebook/Twitter.” Let him do it.” While GenY may, in fact, participating in social networking sites (at a 96% clip), this does not make them expert at crisis communications. When you are firmly in the public eye and all communications are being watched closely, why snark at detractors – who will then howl and spread your information far and wide? One can take a few lessons from this:

  1. If you don’t get social media, stay the hell out. Having a Facebook page or Twitter account means that you can reach people quickly and one the cheap. But understanding how you do these things is critically important. If you don’t get it, stay out.
  2. Don’t ever snark. I wrote about this over the winter, but Nestle learned a hard lesson when Greenpeace hijacked their page. The Internet is forever, so if you snark, people will use this as a sharp instrument to bash your skull in in the court of public opinion.
  3. HAVE AN ADULT IN CHARGE. Is it fair that people get to take swipes at you and you can’t swipe back? Nope. Can you snark at them if you get mad? Nope. Gotta grin and bear it if you are at the heart of a controversy, especially when there are opponents looking to trash you.

All of this is probably Social Media 101, but it is stunning that a) someone would suggest that a global brand like Ford turn over the social media to an intern, b) that Nestle was not prepared for the Facebook page corporate campaign, and c) the Park51 folks, who are getting hammered in the press, would be anything less than hyper-vigilant about ALL of their communications.

C’mon, guys. Get with the (social media) program.


Image credit: Tricycle Editor’s Blog.

Image credit: Association of Downloadable Media



  1. As I am sure you caught by my position on this issue on the Roundtable, I’m in full agreement.

    Honestly, I go one further than “don’t put the intern in charge”–I think it is patently UNFAIR to put a target on the back of a young person and shove him or her onto a global stage. Because that’s what social media is–even if you only have a handful of followers, the potential is there for one offhand comment to be broadcast globally to an audience of thousands or even millions.

    Thanks for listening to the Roundtable!

  2. […] with Park51 were in charge of the account, which has caused some to use this case as an example against the use of interns in handling an organization’s […]

  3. The problem of young people today is they have no class or respect and do not realize what they say now can never be taken back. It’s one thing telling your mother you hate her in the midst of a teenage argument. It’s another to post twit pics of her dirty lingerie – literally.

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