Sun Media’s #Canadafail strategy riles up Canadian twitter followers

Perhaps in light of Rosie MacLennan winning a gold medal in the women's trampoline, Sun Media will now reconsider its "Canada fail" hashtag. Perhaps it was doing that anyway, considering the grief it was subjected to after publicly inviting comment on how to make Canada successful in athletics and swimming.

Earlier in the week, A Sun Media online column by Rob Longley, about the recent failures - as well as expected ones at these Olympics - of Canada's track and field athletes and swimmers, was accompanied by a line in bold letters that read:

Think you know how to improve Canada's showing at the Summer Olympics? Send out a tweet with the hashtag #canadafail

[Related: Rosie MacLennan wins Canada's first gold]

First of all, a little context is needed. The columnist is very rarely responsible, at major media organizations like Sun Media, for the little extras that accompany the column they've written. So I doubt very highly that Longley was the person who put it there. For a little more context, a read of the column reveals a thoughtful, balanced piece on why Canada has not returned to the more lucrative medalling days of its athletics and swimming teams in the not so distant past. That comes, by the way, complete with an agreement from Anne Merklinger, CEO of "Own The Podium," the organization entrusted with shovelling piles of money into sports Canada can do well in, in both winter and summer games.

However, promoting the column (as well as some others done by Sun Media writers) with a tweet and the hashtag "Canada fail" changed the conversation and took it almost completely in a different direction. And gave Sun Media some Twitter headaches.

Here's the tweet that promoted Rob Longley's column, on July 30:

For our #Olympics goals #Canada needs track & swimming medals. Know how to improve our showing? Tweet us w/ #canadafail

The Winnipeg Sun and Ottawa Sun tweeted the same kind of promo:

[Slideshow: Rosie MacLennan]

Some felt the hashtag was a little premature. Heck, the games had really just begun and it was yet to be determined just exactly what Canada would do in the pool during the week ahead, never mind the athletics events that were four days away from starting. Others felt it was just insulting.

A sampling of the blow back that Sun Media received:

[Slideshow: Canada on Day 7]

Some vowed they'd go farther than just replying to the hashtag with a tweet of indignation. They promised a micro economic backlash against the company. Among those, as you'll see, was Canadian Olympic swimmer Blake Worsley:

The 24-year-old Worsley, a first-time Olympian, won his heat in the 200-metre freestyle the day before the hashtag appeared, but failed to make the finals of the event. As well, he and three teammates finished 7th in their heat for the 4x200-metre freestyle relay.

If Sun Media is feeling a little sheepish (I doubt it, though) about the criticism it's getting over the hashtag, it has no one to blame but themselves.

the media chain could have promoted a constructive, progressive and positive conversation about how to get Canada into a more lofty position on the international athletics podium. But the choice to use that "Canada fail" hashtag obliterated that possibility, at least for now, as it made them the story, instead of the real issue.

That said, in the interest of fairness, after sorting through dozens and dozens of angry tweets, I did come up with a few that ignored the implied insult of the hashtag and offered some advice:

Both loved and loathed at the same time, Sun Media is no stranger to impassioned response. Happens all the time. It's just that even its lovers would have to agree, that the choice of a "Canada fail" hashtag was at least a case of poor judgment, if not outright insult.

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