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Social Media Pundits are Ruining Corporate Social Media

Have you ever made a mistake on social media? I’ve made quite a few (and continue to make them). Not huge blunders, but blunders no less. I’ve made insensitive comments that could have been avoided. I’ve criticized people that I’ve respected so they think I’m a butthead. I share politics – the holy grail of social media blunders. I also mix business and pleasure throughout my corporate and personal accounts.

I must suck at social media.

You would think… but I have a healthy following and newly created friendships and business relationships every day. Per the consultants, I’m doing everything wrong… but it’s working. And even stranger, the strategies that DK New Media deploys for companies are creating a positive return on investment. Something that some social media consultants avoid.

I’ve written before about transparency versus authenticity so I’m not going to beat a dead horse here (uh-oh… don’t call PETA). But I do get downright irritated when I see a social media consultant take a company to task for making an unintentional mistake.

The latest debacle is Coca-Cola. They created a Twitter bot for their #MakeItHappy campaign, explaining its purpose in a press release:

Tackle the pervasive negativity polluting social media feeds and comment threads across the internet

Wow… a corporation trying to bring a little happiness to the world. Sure it was a branding exercise so there’s a bit of marketing spin on it. But that’s been Coke’s branding strategy for decades… be visible where there are good memories. So terrible, right?

Well, Gawker’s Adam Pash, created a Twitter bot to tweet lines from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and link to them with the #MakeItHappy tag. The scheme worked. It triggered Coca-Cola’s bot to broadcast Hitler’s text and produce cute photos with the #MakeItHappy tag for a couple of hours.

Gawker posted the stunt and the Internet loved it. Coke took down the bot.

What happened next? The social media pundits pounded Coca-Cola for their social media blunder. I read it throughout my feed – which is full of friends and colleagues that consult companies on their social media strategies. Do a search of #MakeItHappy and Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. Seriously… they pounded them.

A year ago, I did a presentation at Social Media Marketing World where I listed every major corporate social media blunder listed on industry sites and I proved that not a single one had a lasting impact on the brand. Seriously – not a single one!

Corporations are deathly afraid of social media mistakes. You know why they’re afraid of social media mistakes? Because every social media consultant out there berates their staff and second-guesses every strategy they deploy that ends up with a mistake. It’s not the results of the campaign that hurt the company’s reputation, it’s the press that social media consultants produce to embarrass the crap out of them.

Coca-Cola didn’t do anything wrong with their Twitter bot campaign that deserved the reaction the pundits responded with. If you want to take anyone to task, take Gawker to task. IMO, Adam Pash is a dick for happily abusing the campaign and Gawker for bragging about it so they could play gotcha like a bunch of prepubescent teenagers. I can only imagine them giggling as the first Hitler quote made it to Coke’s Twitter feed.

Hey Gawker… grow up.

My Advice to Companies

It’s time for you to go on the offensive with this crap. Defend your brands, adjust your strategies, and move on. The amazing transformation to marketing and media that social media has brought is the ability for us to communicate directly to brands. The world is begging for transparency and a look inside the organizations they work with so that they can feel good that the money they’re spending is worthwhile. With transparency comes risk, though. You are going to make mistakes. And that’s okay!

You can’t predict that some dick is going to hack your happy social media campaign with Hitler quotes no matter how hard you try. Being transparent means that you’re vulnerable to situations like this, but just as you developed a strategy to execute the campaign, you can develop a strategy for when things go wrong.

I would have loved to see a public response from Coke that told the world that Gawker’s actions were the very behavior that their campaign was trying to overcome. I would express sadness that a media company would go to such lows to embarrass a brand. I would take down the campaign and ask people to write Gawker and express their disappointment as well.

There are social media mistakes that companies can avoid, but failing to escape the wrath of idiots on the Internet isn’t one of them.

My Advice to Social Media Pundits

When you take a brand to task like this, you’re destroying your own industry. Your fear-mongering and proclamations of how the brand screwed up aren’t helping you. It’s driving more and more companies to give up on transparency and go back to hiding behind logos, slogans and one-way marketing.

If I were a major brand I’m honestly not sure if I’d ever work with a social media consultant that jumped on the bandwagon to embarrass a company online. Social media works best companies are comfortable communicating with the masses, not when they have to sit in boardrooms playing out every exception in fear of the next blog post you will write when things go wrong. Stop it.

Stop selling your services on fear and sell, instead, on the promise of how companies can transform their brand and build a community with their customers.

6 Comments

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    Hi Doug,

    Great article. I love the graphic — everything a supplemental piece of collateral should communicate without a word written. Bravo.

    I suspect one of the challenges of social media is compartmentalization, which is to say that there’s marketing, technology, design, copywriting, and so on; all the disparate elements of communication in an information society in its infancy.

    The Coke campaign presents an interesting paradigm, but as someone who wears all too many hats in the communications field, including resident technologist, I can attest to one simple fact when contending with the social media beast of burden: never, ever automate your communications for campaign work. You’re leaving them an opening. It’s the digital equivalent of going to war without bullet-proof vest — the casualty rate is going to be high if you have a high profile. It IS the Internet, after all: Anonymous, the Syrian Electronic Army, Lizard Squad, all hacker groups occasionally targeting corporate comms. This one just happened to come from an impish soul at Gawker.

    And then, of course, there’s the Bill Cosby social media fiasco. Wow.

    Chiding them, though, is similar to blaming a dog for getting into the kitchen garbage can: it’s in their nature. And if you leave the lid off the can, well — unfortunately (and I mean that sincerely — it shouldn’t be this way, but it is), that’s what you get: a mess. Still, it’s all education. Once you know the nature of something, you’ll likely have a better understanding of how to deal with it in the future. Perhaps better to lace a campaign with a bullet-proof vest (to belabor the metaphor) and curate it with humans (of course, that usually has built-in personnel issues, then).

    It’s a sticky wicket, this channel. Leave an opening and you’ll quickly find someone has a digital bullet with a brand’s name on it, another casualty of the Internet, another cautionary tale for communications.

    Thanks for making me consider other geometries of this situation with your article.

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    What a refreshing take – wow! #ShameonYaGawker

    It’s true that while social media gurus espouse the virtues of authenticity and transparency, they are severely against any topic that is even partially controversial – I know I steer clear from such issues, so kudos to someone like you for standing up for what you believe #HUGS

    Thanks Douglas
    Kitto

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