I had to laugh when I read about celebrated theatre director Julie Taymor – who was recently unceremoniously dumped from the ill-fated Broadway production of Spiderman – blaming her fall on Twitter and Facebook. Call it a 2.0 twist on the time-honored tradition of blaming the messenger – typically the media but now social media platforms – for fanning the flames of criticism and spurring negative outcomes. (This is almost as spurious as Newt Gingrich blaming the “mainstream media” for putting his words in his mouth on Meet the Press a few weeks ago.) One wonders if Ms. Taymor would have complained if the buzz about her play would have been positive.
This argument has been a mainstay of frustrated politicians, executives and artists for generations when they receive less than positive media coverage or public reaction. And it’s an absolute waste of time. Yes, it true that networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become super highways for word-of-mouth – good or bad. And yes, its true that news media can sometimes sensationalize, focus on soundbites at the expense of context, pile on and…gasp…even inject some of their own bias in their reporting. But in the vast majority of communication snafus – resulting in a negative coverage and/or word-of-mouth – the driving force behind public reaction lies in the original statement, policy or product rather than the channel through which information or opinion is disseminated. Communication channels can help to amplify or influence public reaction, but they have no inherent bias or purpose in themselves.
So instead of blaming a platform like Twitter – which is merely an extremely convenient channel for sharing comments and ideas and provides a voice to millions of global users – folks like Taylor and Gingrich should focus on their own role in the communication process, and probe the reasons behind the mixed public reaction and commentary. In fact, implicit in these complaints about evil media messengers (or social platforms) is that the public reaction they reflect (and generate) is somehow unfair, or even misguided. This reflects a certain arrogance and tin ear, a trait that has caused the downfall of many public figures. A better approach is to accept the verdict of the public or fans and learn from the feedback.
The lesson for communication professionals – and for executives and artists seeking to promote their message or craft their public image, is that there is nowhere to hide in this era of real-time, 24/7 news coverage and social networking. News and commentary will travel fast and wide, and not all of it will be positive or even logical. There is still room to manage the public discussion and promote your agenda or argument, but don’t blame the messenger, or the customer, if things don’t work out the way you wanted. Instead take a look in the mirror.