The Herald Sun’s attempt to thrust controversial columnist Andrew Bolt into the social media spotlight has backfired this week, with the question and answer exercise quickly escalating into an online mockery of the infamous journalist.

The newspaper asked its twitter followers to post their questions on the social network using the #askbolt hashtag on Monday. But rather than responding via twitter, Bolt would answer the questions on his blog.

But the exercise turned into a barrage of thousands of tweets ridiculing Bolt, with very few meeting the (assumed) expectations of organisers.

There were about 15,000 #askbolt tweets ranging from hilarious to offensive by Wednesday afternoon prompting the hashtag to trend in Australia.

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Malcolm Turnbull held his own question and answer session a day earlier utilising another online platform Google Hangout — a group video chat mechanism that allowed him to answer questions that from twitter using the hashtag #turnbullhangout.

Unlike #askbolt, the Malcolm Turnbull hangout was focused on the subject matter at hand — politics. The session did not specify a particular topic however discussion focused on the national broadband network.

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Alternatively #askbolt reeked of a forum that was heavily weighted in favour of the columnist. For example the actual answer part of the forum was held on his blog, not actually resulting in any kind of dialogue, rather an opportunity for Bolt to hand pick questions he could answer easily.

So why did one tactic work and not the other? In the eyes of a social media strategist, what unfolded was the perfect storm. Context. We’re heading into an election, so it makes sense that Malcolm Turnbull is hosting a forum to speak to his constituents, especially when discussing a topic such as the national broadband network.

 Turnbull is savvy on twitter. He has a large following and tweets as if he is actually using the medium rather than the disingenuous PR staffer managing his account. The #turnbullhangout seemed to be a natural extension to his social media engagement.

On the other hand, Bolt has one of the most read political blogs in the country — but his social media experience is limited. He isn’t even on twitter! If he had spent the last few years developing a twitter presence, he would have been able to gauge whether a topic like this would work.

They could have tested #askbolt with a small audience or looked for recurring questions and topics that catered to an audience interested in his commentary. However, the Herald Sun chose instead to use social media as a broadcast channel.

Read this article at The Australian Financial Review.

Photo courtesy: Josh Robenstone via AFR