@JackBurkman on left, @Jack_Burkman on right

@JackBurkman on left, @Jack_Burkman on right

Does the name “Jack Burkman” sound familiar?

If you are a sports enthusiast, you have probably heard about the lobbyist in Washington D.C. who is proposing legislation to ban gay players from the National Football League.

This week, I have a great case study to share with you about the “other” Jack Burkman.

Jack’s story is special because through his experience you will hear how being active in social media has helped him manage his own reputation, despite the activities of his name-sharing twin.

First, let me share a few important details about the less-famous Jack Burkman

  • Jack Burkman is a 3-time, locally-elected politician who serves on the Vancouver City Council in Washington State,
  • Jack has had a career in engineering and management for Hewlitt Packard,
  • Jack understands the importance of social media and the opportunity that it provides for people to be more involved in their community,
  • Jack made it to Twitter fast enough to snag the Twitter handle @JackBurkman, and
  • Jack is a genuinely great guy who loves to listen to all sides of an issue before making an informed opinion.

This past Monday, the “other Jack” went public with his desire to develop legislation to ban gay football players from the NFL.

And social media responded.

People rallied around the cause, sought out ways to contact Jack Burkman, and started posting.

And, for Councilor Jack Burkman, posts immediately began appearing on Facebook and Twitter.

The first one I caught was a simple word: “Idiot” which immediately caught my eye because the Jack I know is hardly an idiot.  And, in a quick search, it was obvious that people were mixing up the identities of the two men.

But what I noticed next was fascinating, @JackBurkman was responding and talking back.

In fact, my local Jack created a canned message which simply said,

He sent @mention replies to nearly everyone who included him in their vitriolic reactions.

On Facebook, Jack would reply to the comment and then, shortly thereafter, he would delete the comment altogether.

After a few hours of dealing with the comments, Jack changed his profile picture to this:

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Jack understood that his profile picture could serve as his “online yard sign” and aimed to send a message via the colors used and his simple message.  He knew that the use of the rainbow colors would immediately cause people to say “wait a minute, why would Conservative Jack use those colors?”

Now this isn’t the first time that Vancouver Jack has been mistaken for Conservative Jack.  In fact, in both 2006 and in 2010, Conservative Jack made the news for controversial comments and on both occasions, Vancouver Jack has received a ration of hateful calls and emails.

In the previous incidents, the emails and snail mail were slower to arrive, but Jack felt incapable of moderating the response because he only had the option of replying to people individually.

According to Jack, the 2014 attack was more virulant, but as quickly as it ramped up, it also quickly ramped down as the conversation was rerouted to the proper @Jack_Burkman.

I had the opportunity to interview Jack this past week and I asked him what he would share with other public officials who might be reluctant to join social media because of situations like this one.

In a very matter-of-fact way, Jack said, “I like the metaphor of a house burning down. You must stop what you are doing and deal with it. It’s the nature of the beast.  You have to be responsive to the public where they are at.”

With curiosity, I asked Jack whether he ever thought about turning off the comments on his Facebook page and he shook his head and said it never crossed his mind.  He engages in social media to reach the public and would never think about shutting off their access to him as a local representative.

While others might rush to shut off the comments, Jack welcomed them.  He also never intended to push people’s comments over to the instigator of this situation. His only goal was to inform folks and let them know that they had misdirected their concerns.  And people responded with fast apologies and deletions of their content.

You may be wondering how much time it took to respond, Jack noted that he probably dedicated about 4 hours on the first day primarily as he wrapped his head around how to respond most appropriately.  He replied to every email, tweet and Facebook post on his own.

In comparing the 3 different situations since 2006, it was clear that social media gave Jack a venue to talk back to those who were attacking him.  And if Jack wasn’t involved in social media? His reputation would still be under attack based on the use of his name.  Social media gave Vancouver Jack the ability to say “this isn’t me.”

Jack’s presence on social media also limited the number of direct phone calls he received about this situation.  In 2006 and 2010, the attacks came primarily on email & phone.  But this time? Jack only received 2-3 phone calls (of course one of those was from CNN requesting an interview before they learned they had a wrong number).

Jack credits his experience in commenting on news media blogs in teaching him how to respond in this situation.  He shared that when he is the first to post in a factual and friendly manner to news articles, the path of the conversation changes.  He said that  he has learned that you cannot join the conversation when the comments are already raging or on fire.  His goal is always to “turn the flame down” when he engages in social media.

To summarize, what are the key lessons that you might want to take from @JackBurkman’s experience?

  • Expect rumors & misinformation,
  • You cannot respond too quickly with factual information,
  • Presence on social media gives you the ability to be involved in the conversation,
  • Avoiding social media means that you’ll be left only with phone/email options to dispel rumors which is far more tedious to work with,
  • Your profile picture can provide visual cues to readers as well, if simple and clear, and
  • Don’t fear the negative campaigns, but rather figure out what messages will turn those flames down.

I loved watching how @JackBurkman handled this situation.  All too often, I hear public officials express fear and reluctance, about getting into social media without realizing how they are limiting their options when it comes to managing their reputations.

You don’t have to know Jack to realize the importance of sharing this story with those in your offices who are still on the fence about social media.

Rumors and misinformation will always be with us.

Get involved so you can set the record straight.

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