The debate over freedom of speech in social media and the fine line between constructive and destructive criticism is an interesting talking point. Social media is pushing the traditional boundaries of freedom of speech.
The internet, and the immediacy thereof, is providing many new ways to interact with ideas. Blogs and social media are public spaces where metacognition rules. The social media environment has given rise to a new phenomenon where content is generated and directed by consumer opinion and experience. The consumer has become the marketer, the producer and the critic. Cape Town Tourism uses what is called the customer journey as the very foundation of our marketing strategy, singling out the customer as Cape Town’s most important marketer and story teller. We have embraced social media and the web as the most effective and cost-effective marketing platform of our city and its incredible experiences. In the run-up to the World Cup we decided to use Facebook to create a virtual fan park for Cape Town in our quest to turn soccer fans into fans of Cape Town.
The I ♥ Cape Town fan page was launched on 11 June 2010 (one year to kickoff) and quickly became a growing and active Cape Town brand ambassador community of proud citizens, homesick expats, previous visitors yearning for a return trip to the Mother City and first time visitors asking advice and tips from other fans. We stand at more than 160 000 fans, making it one of the largest destination Facebook fan pages. The rapid growth of the page was not aided by paid advertising. It has been purely organic, which shows the strength of brand Cape Town and the impact it has had on the lives of locals, international and domestic visitors, expats and the industry. It also illustrates that the story, more so than the product, has become the unique selling point. It is a story told by many voices and these voices cannot always be controlled or managed.
Whilst we are staunch supporters of freedom of expression, it does come with a great sense of responsibility. We have learnt that rules do apply to the world of Social Media, especially if you want your voice to be taken seriously and to garner respect – we apply some basic, unwritten rules of journalistic ethics, decency and professionalism to our social media presence and activities.
When social media, and in this case blogs, become soap boxes where ego’s clash and all sense of professionalism and decency is discarded for the sake of controversy and a better ranking on search engines, then I question the value of these platforms of “freedom of expression and opinion”. As someone else has said on this topic, no one benefits, least of all the tourism industry.
There is a very fine line between constructive feedback and personal vendettas disguised as professional reviews. As an industry we do need constructive criticism and Cape Town Tourism welcomes this, but when comments and feedback become destructive it serves very little purpose. Just because blogs and social media are free and easily accessible doesn’t mean that rules of playing fair and good old common sense and decency need not apply.
The current debate has again highlighted the importance of defining the principles of honesty, transparency, respect, privacy, relevance, and responsibility within the social media communications realm. All of us participating in social media platforms, whether in our personal or professional capacity, are part of public dialogue and discourse. We need to take responsibility for our views expressed and the repercussions thereof.
Cape Town Tourism has specific procedures in place for dealing with grievances against our staff and / or our members. We have taken the necessary action against staff members who have helped to fuel the debate in contravention of Cape Town Tourism’s communications protocol. This does not mean that we condone bullying or will accept accusations made against a team member or a member of the industry without question.
Mariette du Toit-Helmbold is CEO of Cape Town Tourism