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About Merlyn on Media

Merlyn Reineke is Executive Director of Montgomery Community Media, which provides media training and community-based content by-and-for the residents of Montgomery County. Merlyn’s blog focuses on all-things media, with an emphasis on how community-based media can make our county a better place to live, work and play.... Read more

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The Redskins, Twitter, and When Good Intentions Go Bad

Redskins on field for slider 450x280There’s an old saying that goes: ‘Don’t’ pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel’. Decades ago, that meant you didn’t cross swords with your local newspaper. Today, social media has replaced print as the way to generate power through large followings.

The Washington Redskins organization had that large following, but saw the tables turned on them recently.

In late May, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and several colleagues wrote to the Redskins, asking them to change the derogatory name of the team. To fight back, the team pushed out the following tweet to their 305,000 Twitter followers:

Instead of support for the team, the response was a tidal wave of opposition:

“This team has ZERO,” one person tweeted.

“Lifelong ‘Skins fan and I strongly believe it is time to change the name,” wrote another.

“How do you not see what a bad idea this is,” said another tweet.

Sometimes as organizations, we drink our own Kool Aid, and put ourselves in a position where we tune out the people most important to us: our customers. In the Redskins case, there may be some level of support for keeping the team name from a small contingent of individuals (or maybe just one: Dan Snyder). But clearly the larger customer base (the fans, or at least many of their 305K folks on Twitter) overwhelmingly said it’s time for a change.

As a company, especially one that is all about their community they serve (as in the Redskins), who do you listen to?

When faced with a growing public relations disaster, organizations must weigh the value of their legacy activities versus customer responsiveness. Only time will tell if the Redskins change their name, either by internal management decision or external forces. But I see nothing in this battle that has been beneficial for the team, the community or the sport itself.

To quote from another industry, never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. For the Redskins and perhaps your organization, don’t play games with social media if there’s a chance it’s going to blow up in your face. And if management doesn’t listen to its customers, then it’s clearly a time for someone to leave, be it the management or those customers.

I kind of like that black bird in Baltimore, myself.

Merlyn Reineke

About Merlyn Reineke

Merlyn Reineke is Executive Director of Montgomery Community Media, which provides media training and community-based content by-and-for the residents of Montgomery County.


One Response to “The Redskins, Twitter, and When Good Intentions Go Bad”

  1. Steve Simon
    On June 4, 2014 at 11:40 am responded with... #

    Right you are, Merlyn. As a PR professional who was asked to comment on this situation for a WJLA story on the day this news broke out, I was dumbfounded about just how bad the team miscalculated this strategy. And coincidentally, although the soundbite did not make it into the story, I told the reporter the same thing you said above about the old adage for those in the legal profession. NEVER ask a question you don’t know the answer to! Little trickier in PR, but still, must use research, logic and gut, and know exactly how possible it was for this ill-fated tactic to backfire! Here’s that WJLA story, with my input:

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