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Absence is Louder Than Words: Boston Mayor’s AMA

Ask Me Anything” on Reddit can be a great tool for public figures to connect with their audience. Just like the title suggests, public figures invite users to ask them anything they like. And they do, with questions ranging across the board (and always including the inquiry “would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?”). The unpretentious format humanizes public figures and makes them accessible.  But it also puts them in a hot seat. Like the name states, users can ask them anything, but whether or not they choose to respond is up to them. However, in this platform, non-answers resonate, making it appear that they consciously chose to avoid criticism.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s (@marty_walsh) announcement of  his AMA definitely generated some excitement online. He even provided some lighthearted videos featuring a cameo by Reddit’s mascot. However, the mayor said he would only dedicate 30 minutes to answer questions (which is hardly enough time to answer many). Leaving the conversation early may have hurt his performance.

It started when the user _amnesiac asked about the state’s legalization of medical marijuana. In the question, the Redditor asked why the mayor said he opposed legalization and planned to block two dispensaries from opening in a recent Boston Globe article. Walsh partially answered the question, saying he actually does support the legalization. In response to that, another Redditor posted quotes from the article that directly contradicting the mayor’s answer. There was no reply from Walsh. It’s very likely that the 30 minutes he allotted for the AMA had run out, and he had to go back to running the city. But in his absence, Redditors continued the debate while the mayor wasn’t there to defend himself. While this didn’t necessarily ruin the whole AMA, it dominated the thread for some time, placing an unflattering portrait of the mayor right at the top of the page.

Even if you’re not the mayor of a major city, there’s still a lesson to be learned here. Having an open dialogue with your audience online is important and is a great way to boost connection and awareness for your brand. However, when you commit to doing that, be there through the good and the bad. Like in real life, you wouldn’t walk out of the room once someone contradicted you or pointed out something unflattering. Doing so looks bad, and that negative impression of you can easily dominate in your absence. Commit the time and dedication to inspire the positive image you want.

AMA’s are a delicate thing. But they serve as a microcosm of how you should deal with your online audience. Above all else, it illustrates the pillars of online engagement: be open, be honest, and most importantly, be present.

What do you think of Mayor Walsh’s AMA? View his intro video below and read the discussion thread.




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