Missing the Social Media Advantage

With the British Columbia Teachers dispute at an end I thought I would take a look at the dispute, as it played out on Social Media. As I went through post after post, about the topic and the negotiations, one thing was VERY clear; while both sides were active in it, neither side used Social Media to their advantage.

Advantage: No One.

On the government side, Social Media was, as it is with most government operated Social Media content, all about the spin. From the Ministry of Educations view on the dispute to their $335,000 Social Media ad campaign (this is where those in the Social Media industry spit out their morning coffee). Pretty much every post and ad, by the government side of the dispute, was met with a massive negative comment stream. Judging from the vitriol in those comments, it is not much wonder that there were few (if any) positive or supportive comments. Anyone daring to post something, like that, would face the wrath of those in opposition.

On the teachers union side, there was not only a significant lack of Social Media presence in the online conversation, but the content that was there was no better than the spin that the government was putting out. There was little that was original and their lack of engagement with the public, with who they said they had great support from, was even less apparent. It’s not that there wasn’t a case of there not being any content to share, though. In fact, many of the unions membership produced some stellar and thought provoking content that not only countered the governments position, but actually put it to shame. A missed opportunity, by the teachers union Social Media administrators, for sure.

They Weren’t Alone

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 7.46.31 PMThe traditional Media made an attempt to curate some conversations, but, as in any of the labour disputes found in British Columbia, they were often seen as “guiding” the conversation, rather than “moderating” it (which wasn’t usually the case, but you really can’t tell an Internet troll anything, can you?).

Parents came out with Facebook pages in support of the teachers. Others came out with blogs or posts against them. The public was actively engaged in the online conversation, as well as the traditional media conversation, yet there was one conversation that was sorely missing amongst all that were out there; the one with answers.

While both sides attempted to court or sway public opinion, neither did anything that allowed the public to make informed comments or decisions. Only once was there an explanation of the situation at hand, that made any sense of what was happening, and that came from a former crown prosecutor who had posted a frustrated comment on Twitter. Either side could have used that interview to make their point for their side of the argument, but neither did. Why? Because it gave both sides of the coin, rather than just one.

So, what could have been done differently?

It’s About Listening, Not Talking

It’s hard to find simple answers to such a polarizing issue, but they do exist. Both the government and the teachers union missed the opportunity to cultivate possible solutions from the online conversation. In the dispute, it was the position, of both sides, that they were the ones who should be determining things like what class size and composition looked like in todays classroom. The both sides missed the chance to have an online conversation with parents, students and teachers, about what is important to them in the classroom, why and how to potentially achieve it.

The teachers union talked constantly about classroom conditions and teachers workload, but never moved the topic beyond talk. To this day, the average citizen has zero idea of what the “Day in the Life of a Teacher” looks like. One GoPro video camera, strapped to any random teacher in Elementary, Middle or High School, would tell the tale better than a biased blog post. In fact, it was only after the dispute was settled and the teachers had returned to set up their classrooms, for the school year, that one of the most telling images hit my Social stream. A teacher posted a picture of her freshly set up Elementary classroom, set up only with the material that is supplied to her, by the district and the government. The room was, to say the least, blah.

As is often the case of government, a chance was missed to get input, rather than just commentary, from the public. While it would be impossible for any government to avoid an online conversation going sideways, having a community manager in place that really knows how to manage content and conversation, means that there would have been an opportunity to find out what is actually important to the public, when it comes to education and potentially get some unique ideas on potential solutions to existing problems. The simple fact is that some of the most creative solutions, to an organizations problems, are not always found from within the organization.

In the end, the “he said, she said” battle that played out, between the government and the teachers union, did nothing to help matters. In fact, it probably made matter worse, for the same reason that Social Media doesn’t work for some businesses. Both sides neglected the “Social” side of Social Media, focusing solely on their message, versus their customer. When the conversation and content only goes one way, then the true value of Social Media is lost.