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Kansas Governor Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is getting a lot of attention on Twitter today for the way he responded to a negative tweet from a high school student in Kansas. Even though the story just broke yesterday, it’s already making the Twitter rounds (and images like the one on the left are popping up).

The young woman tweeted her dislike of Brownback while on a school field trip to his office, and in response Brownback–whose staff monitors Twitter for negative feedback–contacted her school to report her. The school officials are forcing the girl to write a letter of apology to Brownback and his office.

Regardless of your political beliefs, this is not the best way to respond to negative attention on Twitter, or any other social media platform. I understand that the Governor and the school wanted to show the young woman that what you say on social media is public, but I would advise any business, public official, or organization against taking this angle.

So instead, here’s what we advise you to do when you receive negative press on social media.

Governor Brownback on Twitter: What He Should Have Done

One: determine if it’s even worth responding to. No offense to her intelligence, but the girl’s tweet wasn’t worth it. Using the hashtag #heblowsalot, the girl joked that she criticized Brownback to his face. Not really a big deal.

Governor Brownback and his office should have let it go. He’s highly unpopular with people on the other side of the political spectrum, as are most politicians. If you have a public face, you have to expect that people will disagree with you. The first amendment encourages this, and Twitter facilitates it.

Two: if the feedback is something tangible, for example someone complains about a specific product or service, then I recommend responding to them directly, asking them to DM you on Twitter or email you directly.

There’s no reason not to try and ameliorate the situation in this way, and allow others to see (publicly) that you are responsive to your customers.

Don't be a troll

Three: sometimes people are trolls. They want to say negative things, whether or not they’re true. If they refuse to contact you to try and discuss what they’re upset about, and simply continue to complain about you even after you’ve attempted to contact them, then there are a couple things you can do.

If it’s on Facebook, what we do is erase any posts that come after your post that invites them to contact you directly. There’s no reason for all of your fans and followers to watch a messy tantrum unfold.

On Twitter, however, your options are fewer. You can block someone from contacting you, but you can’t censor what people say about you. There are some good examples of how companies have dealt with this on Twitter (see our post about Urban Outfitters and how they tweeted in response to the negative feedback), but making someone apologize to you is definitely not the way to respond.

Governor Brownback has created for himself a social media disaster, and what was once an innocuous tweet by a young woman has now become a trending topic around the country.

In the end, the lesson to be learned isn’t for the girl who tweeted. Instead, it’s for Governor Brownback and Shawnee Mission East High School: forcing someone to apologize for tweeting negatively about a public official or company that they disagree with is the surest way to receive exponentially more bad press.

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