Is Social Media More Powerful than the Government?

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Do you agree with the government’s Workfare scheme? If you’re against it, you’re in a tiny minority of ‘loony left’ activists, according to number 10’s half-hearted smear campaign to discredit its opponents.

Despite the Department for Work and Pension’s attempt to make us think only a small minority of extremists are against Workfare, there are people all over Britain from varying backgrounds who oppose the controversial scheme. Something isn’t working…

A Revolution from Below
Whether Workfare is good, bad or just plain ugly, it has highlighted two significant issues. The first is the shortsightedness with which the government, Tesco and other large companies embarked upon a scheme which was almost guaranteed to get people’s backs up, seemingly with no strategy in place to communicate the scheme positively.

The second is how social media is causing a revolution from below and shaping the way democracy works in this country. Many of the original participating companies have abandoned Workfare under pressure from the public making their voices heard online. This just wouldn’t have happened before the rise of Facebook and Twitter.

Six Ways the Government and Tesco Could Have Used Social Media to Promote Workfare

1) Joined up communications. A joint PR and social media strategy, led by the Department for Work and Pensions, could have helped organisations participating in Workfare deal with negative press attention. Instead, affiliated companies are bailing like rats on a sinking ship. Awkward.

2) Don’t get tarred with a bad brush. Signing Tesco up sends out a strong message that the scheme is going to be more about supporting big business than helping young people.

3) Show the benefits. Social media could have helped underpin the scheme with positive messages. The government could have helped benefit claimants tell their story on Facebook and Twitter, helping the scheme’s reputation and also helping participants benefit from improved online reputation to employers.

4) Don’t slag off the opposition. The government shot itself in the foot by accusing Workfare opponents of being ‘job snobs’. This instantly turns it into a class issue instead of focusing on the possible benefits of the scheme – making contacts, getting a foot on the ladder, learning about the structure of employment. Political point scoring is an instant turn off and discredits your policy.

5) Have a crisis plan. When there are legions of angry customers baying for your organisation’s blood on Facebook, the worst thing you can do is ignore the situation and delete their comments (*cough*) (*Tesco*). This isn’t a job for your customer services team – key messages should have been agreed beforehand and delivered strategically. Tesco’s only effort to recover from the crisis was to issue a press release almost a week after it all kicked off. The release didn’t directly address social media users, and completely skirted round the issue – no effort was made to explain why a major organisation should profit from what is essentially free labour.

6) Invest in CSR. Show them you care with an injection of corporate social responsibility: Tesco could have clawed back some respect by making charitable donations to a relevant cause. They could also put in place a scheme to provide training for people who were unsuccessful at getting a job at the end of their Workfare placement.

If your social media strategy could do with a boost, or if you need some advice about handling an online crisis, give Zeta a call on 01202 901 101.