Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma


This week Gordon Brown made a major announcement on YouTube that totally backfired. The UK press has been right to jump on this poor use of social media as a disaster for the Prime Minister. But let’s be clear, this is an example of how not to use a social media tool, it is not an example of the tool being broken.

Brown’s mistake, in this instance, was poor management and a lack of empathy. On a matter dear to the hearts of all MPs - their pay and expenses - rather than consult, he pronounced his verdict. That he used YouTube to do it is a sideshow. But it does provide a valuable lesson.

Social Media tools are just that. In the hand of a craftsman they can achieve great things, but if used in a sloppy manner they will not magically give great results. It’s the same for YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and online communities.

And it’s exactly what I found myself talking about on a Social Media Panel at Internet World Expo this week. There can be an unhealthy obsession with getting a brand page up on Facebook or being sure to have a company Twitter account.

Don’t do it. Unless you have a good reason.
Separately, I noticed that Gordon Brown turned off the ability for viewers to comment on his video. Closing down the conversation - perhaps something purists would rally against. However, I suspect in this case, it was pretty good crisis management. Sure, people took the conversation elsewhere, but it did start to die down.

As ever, we’d be interested to hear your views.

You can watch the video is all it’s glory (including his special smile) here:


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  1. Paul Fabretti:

    This is a very interetsing post given what Hazel Blears said over the weekend.

    I don’t think you can necessarily blame the tools - but someone needs to get a handle on the content strategy at Number 10. As Radian6 presented in one of your most recent posts, don’t be afraid to hold your hands up and admit error, or change.

    Obama does a great job of retaining his authority whilst admitting errors (the recent fly-by for example).

  2. Matt Rhodes:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the comment and you’re absolutely right about not being afraid of admitting errors and keeping the people you are engaging up to date on what you’re doing it and why you’re doing it. If you switch of comments - explain why and be honest. If you think it wasn’t the best way of conveying the message, say that.

    Social media can be quite forgiving. It’s changing quickly and lots of people are trying lots of things. It’s a great place to experiment and to innovate. But if you get things wrong say so. You can be sure if you got things right you’d be keen to tell people!

  3. Our top five posts in May | FreshNetworks Blog:

    [...] 1. Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma [...]

  4. Vince Stevenson:

    Bit of a shocker from Number 10. Jumping on the social media bandwagon should be left to the experts. Obama did a great job during his election campaign. Number 10 needs some serious advice on how to approach this in the future. Rgds Vince

  5. Julian:

    I’ve just watched this horror-story of a posting, and came to this page whilst looking for reaction.
    Years and years ago, I worked on the sidelines of media training, I also come from a theatrical background. As other posters comment - this ‘youth pitch’ is best left to the experts. Gordon does not have the skills to present himself naturally and informally. I remember during the leadership elections when he was campaigning against Blair and Beckett, he refused media training - and it looks like he still does.
    He’s a clever and decent man - but utterly blinkered when it comes to matters of presentation. It’s almost like self-vandalism. Whoever ‘taught’ him the (wrongly placed) smile, and that terrible shoulder dip, really needs talking to.

  6. Our top five posts in June | FreshNetworks Blog:

    [...] 1. Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma [...]

  7. What is the real cost of a social networking effort? (or, Twitter can be risky business) « Dave Reinhardt:

    [...] crafted. Gordon Brown’s use of YouTube to try lead the discussion on the expenses scandal is widely covered and widely derided. No matter whether you agree with what he said, as a politician his message was relevant to current [...]

  8. David Reinhardt:

    I thought this was a nice assessment of why it was that the YouTube incident was such a poor reflection of the use of social networking technologies. Your one conclusion is spot on - it’s about the execution, not about the technology.

    I linked the page as part of a post on the risks of adopting social networks.


  9. Mobilising people in social media: the #welovethenhs debate | FreshNetworks Blog:

    [...] wrong medium for politicians to express their opinions or to make announcements (especially about Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma). But this is a case where users themselves have started and are having a discussion on an issue [...]

  10. Audio: Conservatives and Labour debate the power of internet campaigning « Just Juiced:

    [...] the Labour Party has been seen as simply not ’getting’ the online world (see ‘Gordon Brown’s youtube trauma‘). However, in the past six months the Labour Party (its supporters not so much its [...]