Some have argued that examples, like the situation with Hamilton, show that Twitter and other social media are dangerous and a liability to use.

We disagree. In the wrong hands, poorly managed social media campaigns can be disastrous. But a well-educated, well-thought out, engaged social media campaign can be an incredibly rich and effective way to interact and engage with your audience.

Social media is not inherently good, bad or evil; it is a tool–a tool allowing people to connect and share information. In this case, social media was used poorly. You cannot blame the hammer if a table is poorly built. The hammer is the tool that was poorly used.

This comment to one of the articles accurately sums up the feelings of many regarding the City of Hamilton situation :

“I’d say the majority of the backlash was because the campaign was incredibly shoddy and poorly executed. Rampant use of jargon, a poorly designed website, and no apparent connection to the community it purported to engage understandably raised people’s ire, especially when we saw the price tag…”

The Internet loves to speak up when they sense that something is wrong. And in this situation, they were justified to raise their concerns. It is in no way social media’s fault that the firm did not maintain a professional campaign. It was the firm itself who wasn’t professional and proficient in their use of social media, or their engagement and knowledge of Hamilton. For example, the Pinterest page had images from other Hamiltons, rather than the Hamilton in Ontario that they were representing . A main image on the website was of a bike trail in Ottawa.

Yes, it is true that people are more open on social media and can say more pointed comments than they would while talking face-to-face. However, claiming that Twitter and other social media cannot be used to share insightful thoughts or engage a community is untrue. One only has to look at the incredible success in Newark, New Jersey, where it’s mayor, Corey Booker, uses social media as one of his primary communication vehicle to his constituents, helping them to be heard, and in real time. “I’m on it!” is his Twitter catch phrase.

Still people doubt the validity and worth of social media. Some Hamilton councilors have shown their ignorance towards social media: “It’s great for saying ‘Oh, I went to the concert tonight,’ but that’s about it.” In a CBC Hamilton interview, one councilor said that he prefers online discussion to take place through a blog or personal website, “because they can be controlled very carefully.”

You cannot control people’s thoughts or opinions. It is their right to speak up and say that something is wrong. From this statement, it sounds that this councilor is afraid of accountability. Trying to hide the true feelings of the community and only showing what you want others to see makes people angry. This is not new and it is not only true of social media.

Without Hamilton’s Twitter account, I’m confident that people would have still talked negatively about the campaign on and off the Internet. People used the hashtag that had been created for the campaign (#TellOHEverything) because they wanted to be heard. And whether it was on the @ourhamilton Twitter feed or not, their opinions would have been shared…in 140 characters or more.

Sincere tweets would have continued to be sent to Hamilton–valuable contributions to improve their social services, had residents had confidence in the folks managing the campaign and their ability to react to their comments.

One of the saddest aspects of this situation is that the campaign could have been great. Citizens had tweeted the @ourhamilton account to express their excitement that their city was now using social media to engage the community.

They wanted feedback; they got feedback. The fact that it wasn’t the feedback that they wanted is their own fault. Social media is not responsible for people being upset about a campaign. A company distant from, unengaged with and uninformed about the community, and poor social media execution is responsible.

Oh Hamilton…it could have been so good.

Hopefully other communities can learn from this unfortunate incident in Hamilton. When you (or the company hired) are truly engaged and knowledgeable of the community you are responsible for and are proficient to properly use social media, your campaign has all the ingredients to be successful.

In the past month, there has been controversy around the use of Twitter and other social media to represent regions and municipalities. In our opinion, there are two issues that led to the demise of the Hamilton campaign.

1. The people managing the social media campaign did not follow basic rules of engagement for the medium
2. The people responsible for the Hamilton social media accounts, did not have an accurate knowledge of the city they were representing

For those of you who have not heard, here’s the story of the Our Hamilton social media campaign.

The city of Hamilton hired a firm near Ottawa to collect information about city services from the community, and invested over $350 000.00 to develop the campaign which included a website, Twitter and Pinterest page.

When the campaign launched, residents of Hamilton were excited about the fact that there was going to be a social media forum where they could be heard. People tweeted such comments as “@ourhamilton very exciting project! Great opportunity for #hamont citizens!” and “Hey #HamOnt check out our City (finaly!) using social media to engage residents on municipal issues: @ourhamilton”.

Eric Gillis’s tweet, which served as the catalyst to mass amount of criticism, tweeted @OurHamilton with a valid and sincere remark about the community and what mattered to her:

“Noticed the project hasn’t officially launched yet– but still: The continuation of voluntary pay for disabled on the HSR.”

The campaign was engaging and exciting residents even before it was officially launched.

However, very quickly this excitement turned to discord. The day of the launch, January 8, 2013, a tweet sent from the @ourhamilton Twitter account in response to Eric Gillis tweet enraged the Twitter community, who claimed it showed the company was out of touch with the community with which it was being paid to engage. The tweet involved the @ourhamilton account asking what HSR stood for. HSR, is an acronym for Hamilton’s transit system… and one of the services they were responsible for reviewing. Obviously, they should have been well aware of what it was.

After the initial reaction to that tweet, others began to criticize other areas of the campaign. The community was upset that a local firm had not been trusted with the campaign. Others complained that the Pinterest page had images from other Hamiltons, rather than the Hamilton in Ontario that they were representing . A main image on the website was of a bike trail in Ottawa. People were concerned over the layout of the Twitter page and the tone that was being used to engage upset Twitter users.

We believe that the new version of the term “Think before you speak” should be “Google before you Tweet.” The initial catalyst to this situation, the HRS situation described above, happened because the employee handling the Twitter account was not properly educated before he engaged with the community his firm was supposed to be representing.

It would have only taken a minute or two to research the term “HRS”, but instead chose to publicly admit that they did not know what it meant…and mass criticism ensued fueled by this initial tweet. Furthermore, had the employee managing the Twitter account been from the area, there is no doubt that he would know exactly what the HSR was. A local firm would also have been familiar with the city and its landmarks.