Charities are still floundering with social media. A robust debate that broke out last month on the Parkinson’s UK website forums among its feisty and outspoken members proves the point.
Many of them are expressing dissatisfaction about the charity in more than 230 posts on its public-facing website, and it’s clearly causing embarrassment because chief executive Steve Ford has tried to step in. His solution looks like a desperate attempt at damage limitation.
The catalyst for the thread was the charity’s re-brand, which reportedly cost £200,000 and prompted one member to say her granddaughter could have created a better logo, and another that the slanted angle of the new design will make people want to straighten it.
Charity re-brands are always criticised, but it’s Parkinson’s UK’s public response to this discussion that’s really interesting, because basic mistakes have been made. After the first post – a reasoned, articulate criticism of the re-brand by a member called Wobbly – a forum moderator called Tim left a post that trotted out the charity’s position in corporate-bland lingo. It read as if he’d cut and pasted the press release.
If Tim thought his post would fob Wobbly off, he was sorely mistaken. Post after well-informed post appeared expressing dissatisfaction with his response, and bringing up more and more grievances about the charity’s ‘lack of ambition’ and ‘wasteful expenditure’. To his credit, Ford tried to join in the discussion and answer criticism, but by that time it was too late – it was powering ahead without him.
Now Ford has offered to hold an ‘online meeting’ on 10 March with forum members, which sounds open but actually isn’t. Members wishing to participate must pre-register and the forum will be pre-moderated. His suggestion looks like an attempt to take an embarrassing discussion out of the public arena – another social media mistake – and members are already posting to say ‘count me out’.
The problem with online public forums is that people will use them, particularly if they’re not happy. It’s a mistake to try to fob online critics off with old media-style ‘position statements’, and it’s another mistake to usher inconvenient discussions to a quiet corner, because participants are likely to simply take it elsewhere.