The #RedskinsPride disaster and what every elected official should learn from it

As you may be aware, a significant controversy continues to surround the name of the Washington Redskins.  In short, the Redskins are an NFL football team.  Many are calling for the team name to be changed because of its racial origins and insensitivity.  About two weeks ago, fifty United States Senators, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), signed a letter to the Redskins, asking them to change their name.  The Redskins responded and said no, saying that the name honors Indians and that the public supports the name.

As part of an ongoing public relations campaign, the Redskins put out this tweet:

Really?

Yep.  The responses were a disaster for the Redskins, with the overwhelming majority using #RedskinsPride to bash the team and its racist name.  Examples included:

The story made international news and drew even more negative publicity to the ongoing conflict, with stories appearing in websites and news across the globe.  Senator Reid’s office also chimed in, with a spokesman saying the event “made our day” and noting that the overwhelming response was to be critical of the Redskins.

This was, unquestionably, a PR disaster for the Redskins.  What’s stunning is that the team didn’t learn from the past.  This has occurred time and time again, like when J.P. Morgan held an #AskJPM event that was destroyed by snarky commenters, or when McDonalds tried to promote #McDStories, only to see the hashtag turn into a discussion of the grossest and saddest things to happen at McDonalds.  It’s happened in politics too: #MyNYPD asked people to upload positive pictures with NYPD officers, only to get pics of police brutality shared.  The Republican National Committee once asked Twitter users for feedback on their biggest issues, only to see the responses turn hilarious and insulting.

There is, however, a lesson for politicians: by and large, hashtag discussions and promotions should be avoided.  If you have a high degree of negative sentiment, events like these are bound to happen.  The exception is also if you have a large degree of positive sentiment: then you can expect your supporters to defend you, and that becomes part of the story.  However, even so, you have to make a difficult judgement call: are enough of your supporters ready to defend your position?  I’ve helped to run Twitter Town Halls on controversial subjects: LGBT rights and the Pennsylvania budget.  In both cases, we had supporters ready to go to defend our position, and while we were attacked (more in the budget town hall than the LGBT one), we were also defended and applauded, and that was very helpful.

If you are going to do something like this, be prepared.  However, you really need to question whether or not it’s worth it in the first place.

What do you think?  Do I have this right?  Let me know in the comments!

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