How Not To Defend Yourself Online

Long-time Mayor of Brampton Susan Fennell is in a tough campaign to be reelected. According to a poll conducted in the spring, Fennell is polling at around 18%, putting her in third place. One of the key reasons for this, observers say, is an expense controversy that has dogged Fennell for quite some time.

In response to this reality, Fennell has launched a Brampton Truths initiative, which looks to counter some of the allegations around her. The Mayor has tweeted a link to an email her team sent to the media responding to allegations. Her team has also decided to take the fight to social media, setting up a Twitter account and Facebook Page.

When you are in the fight of your life as Fennell is, it is important to respond accordingly. While it could be argued that such a response is already too little too late – given how long the controversy has been brewing – let’s focus on the tactics at hand and why they miss the mark.

      No Presence: Despite being in office since 1988, including serving 14 years as mayor, Fennell has no digital footprint. Fennell has a website, but it is currently inactive, despite being registered back in 2003. There is no content to defend the mayor and her record. Similarly, she has a campaign Facebook Page, but it has not been updated since January. These assets should have been updated long before an effort to communicate “truths”.
      No Association: The controversy is directly tied to Fennell. There is no distancing from it. So why would her team set up a separate effort to push a message in response? It is even more strange, given that Fennell herself tweeted out the various links. Why not position it in terms of the wider campaign? There is no separation in the minds of the public.
      Content: If you are trying to get voters to learn your side of the story, it is not helpful to publish a single (seven-paragraph) response very few will read. Her team needs to offer a better narrative in a format that people will actually consume: video, infographics, etc. As often is the case in these matters, we can look to the US as a guide.

A controversy like this requires a full court press, both offline and online. Campaigns do not exist in a vacuum – when bad news is everywhere, the only way to counter it and the attention receives is to counter with good news and a creditable response. Fennell’s half-hearted attempts to counter these allegations are completely drowned out by the substantial amount that has already been printed about the controversy.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, a well-cultivated online presence can help you get your message out, while shaping the overall perception of you in the online space. A best defence is a good offence, so build out that substantive online footprint and make sure you put that same effort into defending attacks if and when they come.

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