'Twitter mess' at Dexter chamber offers social media lessons when business mixes with personal
The rules that govern the social media world are constantly evolving, but an episode that led to the resignation of the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director shows that ignorance about that evolution is risky.
Mary Ann Bell Falzon resigned last week after a column in a community newspaper questioned the content of her Twitter account, which she was using to promote local businesses through the chamber’s “Doing Dexter” campaign.
Falzon’s mistakes serve as a lesson for the business community, public officials and others unsure about how to approach social media.
“Through all of this whole Twitter mess, I was doing what I set out to do with Doing Dexter,” she told AnnArbor.com. “What I didn’t do well was tweet about it.”
The first lesson for business people: Make sure you understand the tool before you start using it. Falzon acknowledged that she erred by launching a Twitter account without understanding the social media tool, which allows users to send 140-character updates to users who choose to follow their accounts or view the Web site version of their account.
Falzon said her voluntary resignation was “mostly” connected to the criticism over her Twitter account, although she said the chamber board never confronted her about it. The chamber board, for its part, ousted the board member in charge of overseeing Falzon and released a statement acknowledging that the Doing Dexter campaign had “gone with too little supervision."
Falzon launched the Twitter account on July 8 specifically to chronicle her efforts to shop locally and eat locally through the Doing Dexter campaign, which started Aug. 1 and will last through Oct. 1.
On Aug. 2, she said she rented her first movie from a Dexter business; on Aug. 3, she lunched at Dexter’s Pub; on Aug. 11, she posted about meeting with a prospective new business for Dexter; and on Aug. 13, she tweeted about the Dexter Daze festival.
Those tweets collectively felt like a genuine effort to generate buzz for Dexter’s business community.
But her Twitter account is lacking a sense of strategy and professionalism. Identifying a defined mission and deciding how to execute that mission is a critical starting point for business people who are newcomers to social media.
Asked by AnnArbor.com to review Falzon’s tweets for this story, two social media experts said Falzon seemed to have good intentions but still misused Twitter.
“It seems to be a very murky blend of personal and professional communication,” said Matt Friedman, co-founder of metro Detroit marketing firm Tanner Friedman. “I didn’t see anything on there that was really objectionable, but it was really personal and it seemed that’s where the objection was.”
Take Aug. 19, for example. Falzon tweeted: “Martini's at Terry B's in Dexter! Sean is bartending which means I can only have ONE if I want to be able to walk out the door!”
“If you wouldn’t have written a press release about it in the heyday of press releases, then it definitely doesn’t belong on that particular Twitter account,” Friedman said.
“I think she means well. I think the campaign probably needed a little bit of tighter parameters,” Mehraban said. “You always want to find the tone of voice for the brand, what’s the parameters for the brand, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable.”
Mixing personal and professional is the central dilemma for most business people on social media. Divulge too many details about your personal life, and risk alienating prospective clients. Stick to professional messages only and risk being too boring.
Responsibly blending the personal and professional online is a major challenge.
That’s why Larry Osterling, executive director of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s chosen not to use Twitter for now.
“I have some reservations,” he said. “Sometimes I think you can over-connect. Credibility comes into question because you start wading into those big waters called spam, and people don’t listen to you. I try to be very careful about the information I put out, and they know that if it comes from the chamber it has meaning.”
The criticism aimed at Falzon placed a spotlight on the positive references she made to other local communities.
On Aug. 12, she posted, “I do miss Novi~ and Troy~ Still love Dexter!!!!” On Aug. 9, she tweeted: “Why do I love this town? Because three of our business owners today offered to bring contraband to me from A2, shoes of course, that's love!”
The Dexter Leader article took exception with those references: “It’s also disappointing to see so many mentions of Ann Arbor, expression of sentiments for Novi and Troy, and even a tweet about being homesick for Florida,” the reporter, Sean Dalton, wrote.
Falzon said her messages were taken out of context and mischaracterized, but she’s not apologizing.
“A lot of the criticism I got was that I missed those places. Well, I did,” she said. “Truthfully, we don’t want people to stay in Dexter exclusively, but we do want them to do business in Dexter whenever possible. We’re not looking for people to never set foot in Ann Arbor.”
She said the controversy taught her that social media messages can be misconstrued. As a result, she eliminated half of her Facebook friends, she said.
“When you do social media, people only see part of the story. They don’t see the whole story,” she said. “I could have painted a really different picture of what I was doing had I been better with Twitter. But quite frankly I wasn’t that good at it.”
Twitter is pure opportunity if you use it right. It allows you to shape public opinion, communicate directly with customers, gauge the performance of a specific product or service and publicize whatever you want.
But for business people like Falzon, it can also be dicey.
“You do need to take it seriously because it’s very public, people see it, it’s easy for it to be misinterpreted,” Mehraban said.
Organizations that represent a collection of businesses, customers or consumers need to be especially careful.
“Her professional responsibility was to represent a collection of businesses,” Friedman said. “So if every piece of communication is not representing those collection of businesses, that’s when things get pretty gray.”