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News & commentary

Feb 22, 2013

'You've got some f*#king nerve': festival organiser directs award-worthy social media #fail

This week John Polson, film director and organiser of the world's largest short film festival, created a different kind of production: a bizarre PR debacle on Twitter.

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John Polson

In this day and age of social media successes and failures, a viral PR disaster can be a company’s worst nightmare.

Last year, an employee of Taco Bell was fired after tweeting a picture of himself urinating on a plate of Nachos. A McDonald’s Twitter campaign went horribly wrong when people used the #McDStories hashtag to tell less than complimentary stories about dining experiences.

In February, sacked HMV employees used the company’s Twitter account to vent their disgust. Early this month, American restaurant chain Applebee’s committed “digital suicide” on Facebook after an employee posted online a receipt from a snarky customer who elected to give their tip to God.

This week, somebody hacked into Burger King’s Twitter account and, among other things, posted obscene messages and changed the company’s logo to McDonald’s.

Social media #fails are all too common for companies with loose social media guidelines and, more importantly, with employees that don’t understand the syntax of social media platforms and the potential for them to do far more harm than good.

It is a different kettle of fish, however, when social media incidents concern outlandish acts from individuals who bring organisations down with them — or at least smear them with the same off-coloured cyber brush.

Catherine Deveny lucked out and was boned from Fairfax after tweeting crass jokes during the Logies. In 2011, in a stranger-than-fiction turn of events, long-time Age film critic Jim Schembri ranted about time machines after spoiling the ending to Scream 4. The next year he contacted employers of Twitter users who criticised him and issued veiled legal threats.

This week John Polson, founder of the world’s largest short film festival Tropfest, joined the fold of crazy-in-the-coconut social media usage.

In response to this article, in which I asked Polson a range of questions about the commercial side of  Tropfest and the manner with which films are selected and judged, the 47-year-old went on a prolific spray on Twitter and left a muddy digital footprint. Was it founded or not? You decide.

After The Australian published this column, describing the Twitter incident as an “intemperate feud” and advising Polson not to “bite”, the festival organiser and Hollywood film director went back and deleted almost everything. But the internet is not quick to forget. Screenshots help, too.

Here are the tweets John Polson doesn’t want you to see. In his first tweet Polson alleged the conversation we had over the phone was “not representative” of the resulting story.

He didn’t stop there. The next day, Polson was back on the front foot. Here’s a small selection. These tweets have all also been deleted.

Polson’s bizarre Twitter behaviour arrived in the midst of the festival’s latest controversy. The winning film this year was the third in six years to be accused of plagiarism. And while I believe that accusation is unfair, for reasons I wrote about here, it highlights (along with Polson’s spat) the need for Tropfest to realise that despite being packaged for free in Fairfax newspapers every year, they cannot expect — and nor should they — wall-to-wall puff pieces and positive press.

If they do happen to be reported in any vaguely critical manner, it might not be the best idea to fly off the handle.

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “‘You’ve got some f*#king nerve’: festival organiser directs award-worthy social media #fail

  1. Clint Cure

    I like this one. I’ve never entered Tropfest BTW.
    http://cailyoung.tumblr.com/post/43393465803/an-open-letter-to-tropfest

  2. c d

    Bloody oath this incestuous little industry gets touchy over the slightest issue. As for Johnny, he’s lucky he had Anthony LaPaglia and Simon Baker ready to throw him some scraps when his directing career hit the skids.

  3. Nick Shimmin

    Josh and Roger are dead right, the self-importance of turning this feeble social media exchange into a story is completely pathetic. Good on Polson for getting pissed off, frankly, we need a bit more anger. It’s Buckmaster being precious, if you ask me. But thinking this is worth an article is just one more reason I can’t be bothered wasting my money on Crikey.

  4. Josh Reed

    You know, I find this article a bit tediously passive aggressive. Big deal if Polson didn’t like what you wrote and got narcy on Twitter. At the end of the day, I’d prefer to have people being honestly expressive on social media, even if they embarrass themselves a bit, than self-censoring and moderated up the wazoo.

  5. Peter Hull

    Why do people or businesses have to play this so called social media game? Anyone or business can survive and thrive without facebook and twitter. The just give a platform to people who nobody would have cared about previously.

  6. Wexford

    Don’t know if it’s a social media disaster for John Polson so much as revealing to the world that he’s a bit of a dick. And clearly a sensitive one, at that.

    It’s some belated image management in deleting those tweets, I wouldn’t infer any apology from that.

    The “mate”‘s in the stream from both contributors was amusing as the red mist descended over their eyes 🙂

  7. James Carey

    Very well played. Acted like a journalist should. However, I feel that there are mistakes made in life, and he made one.

    He doesn’t want you to see those tweets because he knows he’s made a mistake. Hopefully he apologises directly to you.

  8. Sally James

    For someone that runs to the media every time he wants something, John Polson sure is a sensitive petal. Happy to abuse the media process, not so happy to answer some basic questions. Methinks he doth protest too much.

  9. John Donovan

    That’s a strange comment Roger.

    I think Luke’s original story is topical, as Tropfest is now such a huge event, how it is positioned and sold to the public and the industry is worthy of analysis. Similarly, if the figurehead of that event is obviously very upset with how the event is perceived and reported upon, and takes to the media to vent this, that also is news. It may not be page 1 of the Australian, but in the context of the original report, it certainly is.

    I’m not sure why you bothered commenting if you thought it was of no interest?

  10. roger

    Oh get over yourself Luke. Claiming Polson’s tweets are ‘bizarre’ and a ‘PR disaster’ is just more hack-speak for a non-story. Polson is clearly pissed off, but so what? How much longer are off the cuff angry tweets going to be written up as Gotcha! stories by journos? If he rang you up on the old fashioned phone and gave you and old fashioned serve, would you write it up? I doubt it. And as for doing Tropfest real damage, with all due respect, I don’t think a Crikey blog is likely to bring down a 20 year old event that has immense public appeal. Grow up. We are not interested in luvvy-spats.

  11. Simon

    Wow. I thought the original article was pretty good. Well balanced and remained complimentary. I think he might be getting a lot of digs about this from elsewhere to be so touchy on this subject.

  12. shitesherlock

    Oooohhhhh hello! Is he ever touchy, this Mr JP!

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