Social media lessons from a self-proclaimed technophobe: Tony Blair

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair dove deep into the Twitter waters earlier this week and was able to experience the social media channel in all its positive and negative glories. It wasn’t always pretty. Seeking to promote his Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Blair threw himself into the public firing squad and answered questions on Twitter by promoting the hashtag #asktony and responding to questions from anyone out there (he used the handle @Tonyblair_TBFF).

There were several who vented their frustrations by throwing out controversial questions about the Iraq war, his troubled relationship with Gordon Brown and his tax affairs, among countless others. Many would question why a public figure like Blair would endure such an exercise and open himself to such abuse. Sure, lots of his dirty baggage from the past was tweeted out for the world to be reminded of and admittedly, I don’t have the data to see the percentage of positive to negative tweets that his #asktony venture generated. But I would say that Blair succeeded in a few different ways:

1. Blair made himself available and entered into the Twitter limelight. He was personal and authentic – he didn’t have a ghost-tweeter, but actually took a picture of himself at a keyboard to convey that he was actually the person behind the message. Surely he knew that criticism and heckling would come his way. But he at least showed that he was open to communicating with every day people.

2. He controlled the message by responding to questions that were aligned to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and ignoring what he would consider off topic tweets. In the process, he was able to reinforce some of the key values of the foundation. This complete Twitter Q and A is available for all to see.

3. Blair also showed that he is willing to learn. As the following article in the Independent details, Blair isn’t into technology and only recently decided to take a Twitter crash course. But give him credit for at least being willing to experiment and try things (and yes, I realize that if he were Prime Minister and not trying to promote a personal project that there wouldn’t be a Twitter story, but still……).

4. How many of you reading this blog knew that Tony Blair started a Faith Foundation? My guess is a small percentage. Now you know. I for one didn’t know about his foundation until I saw the #asktony hashtag come across my Twitter feed. Type Tony Blair in Google News today (February 9th) and you will see a number of different news stories related to Blair’s Twitter extravaganza. Had you typed the same thing a week earlier, there would have been far less Blair headlines. Like it or not, the Twitterverse learned about his foundation’s initiative, and I would be curious to know from the foundation’s marketing people just how much of a boost in web traffic the site tonyblairfaithfoundation.org generated. (As a side note, this story led me to explore the foundation’s site, and I was quite pleased to see Blair’s work promoting interfaith education – I think it is important to seek to learn about religions as part of an experiential / global learning education as opposed to bailing out under the guise of political correctness.)

Are you looking to promote a particular cause but are leery about jumping into the social media fray? I would encourage you to follow Blair’s lead. Learn about the tools, make yourself available, drown out the noise and control your message and like Blair, you too will have a greater possibility of increased visibility and promotion of the messages you wish to share with your various audiences.

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About Kevin Anselmo

Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy focused on education. He helps brands within academia - whether individual or corporate - communicate with stakeholders. He also teaches communications and public relations workshops to different individuals and groups and just launched an online media training program for academics. Previously, Kevin was Director of Public Relations for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and prior to that managed the media relations for IMD Business School in Switzerland. In addition, he was an adjunct communications professor at Nyack College in New York. Currently based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Kevin lived and worked in Switzerland for eight years and in Germany for two years. He has led public relations initiatives in various countries around the world.
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