Just Stay Off Twitter!
In Alberta, the government of Jason Kenney has been in a fight with doctors for months and more recently with teachers, school boards and parents about its back-to-school plan. Throw in a pandemic, low oil prices and record unemployment and it's easy to see why some political staffers are edgy.
Perhaps as a result of all this controversy, Press Secretaries and Issues Managers have resorted to going on Twitter to try to set the record straight on issues, or just to snipe at unhappy taxpayers.
It's a strategy that hasn't been working, so here's why the government communicators should stay off Twitter.
A New Way to "Manage Issues"
For many years, people serving as Press Secretaries and Issues Managers for provincial cabinet ministers across Canada had pretty standard job descriptions. They helped prepare Ministers for news conferences and media appearances, they wrote key messages and media lines, worked with reporters to supply information and kept tabs on what the media was reporting about their Minister and department.
Much of that seems to have changed with some in the Jason Kenney government in Alberta.
Some now spend part of their days on Twitter “discussing” issues. Sometimes they’re just trying to set the record straight and provide proper information, but on many occasions they’re getting into nasty fights. Quite often, the Opposition NDP is dragged into the Twitter feuds, as these Issues Managers point out how much better the Kenney government is than the previous one, or what somebody from the NDP said was a lie (their words not mine).
These are different times than when I was in the media and used to deal with Press Secretaries. They’re now riding social media shotgun for their Ministers.
I’m not going to write this blog without naming names. The biggest Twitter troll “throwing gas on the fire” types are Matt Wolf, Executive Director of Issues management for Premier Kenney, Steve Buick, Press Secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Colin Aitchison, Press Secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
There are others too. They’re just not as busy on Twitter, maybe because the people they work for aren’t in the news as often.
Just last week, a senior staff member in the Premier’s office enraged the United Nurses of Alberta (wrong union to mess with) when he sent this Tweet about the union’s First Vice President Danielle Larivee, a former NDP cabinet minister.
Just the other day, another Kenney Issues Manager called former Canadian Olympian and Ontario Liberal MP Adam van Koeverden a "douchebag." Nice. Excellent way of "managing issues."
Throwing Gas on the Fire
I don’t know these people and I’m not writing this to criticize them personally, although it’s clear they have thousands of people on Twitter who really dislike them. Wolfe’s annual salary of nearly $200K keeps getting tossed around as an example of what’s wrong with the Kenney government’s priorities.
I remember when Wolfe and others started sniping with Albertans on Twitter. I wondered if their bosses were okay with that approach. After all, we are talking about people who’ll be voting in the next election. Apparently, it’s not a problem.
My point is, I think all this political tailgunning on Twitter is counterproductive. It’s unnecessary and I don’t think it’s helping the cause of Kenney, or his government.
I can understand how it’s difficult for issues management people to sit by and do nothing when they see people without the correct facts on social media. The problem is, almost anyone who rants about something on Twitter and has their facts wrong, won’t take kindly to somebody from the government correcting them, especially with a nasty tone. I’ve yet to see a response from an angry citizen on Twitter go something like this – “Gee I’m sorry for making the statement I did and I want to thank you for having the necessary accurate information to correct me. I will try to do better in the future.”
It’s the opposite - “What the hell do you know? You’re just an overpaid government hack!”
Wading into any controversial issue and trying to make it more controversial has never been a good PR strategy. It’s the same as saying “Let’s throw some gas on the fire, that will help put it out.”
Just Govern Stupid
Jason Kenney was elected with a majority government last year. For the most part, he has avoided getting into pissing contests with his critics. Perhaps he’s leaving the dirty work to his most disliked ministers Tyler Shandro, and more recently Adriana LaGrange. They in turn, are using their Press Secretaries to help fight their battles on Twitter.
Perhaps the government should try another strategy. Maybe it should just avoid Twitter. If people are upset and expressing their anger on social media platforms, perhaps avoiding angry people would be a better strategy. It seems when government minions wander into these battles it just fires people up.
I’ve seen really positive posts from Ministers like Shandro and LaGrange about good things their departments are doing and the Tweets get drowned out by disgruntled Albertans who point to the latest “elephant in the room” controversy. Mind you, it’s difficult not to think that way when Shandro tweets how important doctors, or other health care professionals are to Albertans.
The aggressive positions some Alberta government political staffers have been taking on Twitter reminds me of what we’ve been seeing from right wing politicians in the US for the last few years. As Dr. Phil often asks “And how’s that working out for you?”
Albertans gave the UCP a mandate to govern. They should do it and stay off Twitter.
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I thought issues managers were responsible for identifying potential or rising issues and develop strategies to mitigate them, not make them worse. Twitter can be a great communication tool but it has turned into a cesspool. Perhaps that is the point: drown out the influences who may not be as supportive of this government. Regardless, it is horrific to watch and really sets the tone for the current leadership in Alberta.
Excellent commentary and as a former provincial ‘crat, it’s hard to watch the decline of decorum. These people represent the authority of government and are using that position to attack private citizens on social media. It’s not good PR, let alone good government.
Just one quibble - these folks aren’t part of the public service so it’s more accurate to call them political staffers or flacks, rather than bureaucrats.
Excellent point. A friend made that point on Facebook and I hadn't been able to get around to make the change.
I have now, so thank you.
Amen. Get away from the hoards on Twitter. Angry and stupid people have their big megaphone in their own minds. But they act stupidly. Stay away!
Huh. In my experience, they have tiny ... megaphones. Also in my experience, they used to get in heaps of trouble for Twucking up. Now apparently they get appointed as comm directors for energy war rooms.