How to Become a Social Media Sucker
Learning how to "do social media right" is a work in progress for millions of companies, organizations, and individual marketers. Remember back when the year 2007 was coined The Year of Social Media? Eight years later, it's still an ongoing process of elimination. By trial and error, self-promoters and online communications pros are still feverishly working to figure out what works. Luckily for us average joes, a lot of the lessons are readily available just by paying attention to what doesn't work.
For those who have committed to building an online platform for self-promotion efforts, social media outlets can be the most powerful tools in the Web marketing toolbox. Of course, with great power comes great risk. When you mess up in public, other people see you do it. In online communications designed to go big and go viral, any one of us can just as easily self-destruct with the click of a button.
Manipulating the Masses
As always, I believe in learning by example. One of my all-time faves for posterity, Heidi Cohen's "Worst Social Media Screw-Ups of 2011" post on SmartBlog still provides plenty of subject matter for the "what not to do" department.
My favorite on her list: the "trying too hard" category. In Heidi's words, "If you don’t understand social media or even a specific platform, it’s not a good idea to use it for your marketing."
Here are the "trying too hard" offenders from Heidi's list that year:
Actor Woody Harrelson spams Reddit’s AMA (aka Ask Me Anything). Woody Harrelson used this platform to promote his new film Rampart. He didn’t understand that he had to answer questions about anything, not just the movie.
Burson-Marstellar urges bloggers to write anti-Google op-eds for Facebook. This is a lesson in how not to do blogger outreach. Even worse, it’s one of the biggest PR firms.
LG, with Ogilvy, tries to pay “brand ambassadors.” While trying to reach influencers, Ogilvy crossed the line with this blogger by offering to pay. For this blogger, at least, it wasn’t about the money.
Kayak.com pulls ads from “All-American Muslim.” To start with, there’s a problem whenever your CEO is writing “We’re not bigots.” Instead of saying we made a mistake and turning the incident into a teachable moment, Kayak missed.
What do all of these things have in common? They're examples of what can go wrong when deploying ill-considered attempts at manipulating the social media sphere for personal gain. These are premeditated, manufactured strikes geared specifically toward mobbing as much attention as possible from as many people as possible in as short a time as possible... and this is what happens when good audiences go bad.
Sometimes, these tactics work. Sometimes, they become cases of "be careful what you wish for." Again, there are no rules or formulas for social media success; what works for one might become a total disaster for another.
Experimentation is the name of the game. You might have a brilliant PR stunt in mind that sends your book or your blog skyrocketing to the tops of the social media charts. Go for it, if you believe it'll work. Just remember, your audience is not stupid. Web users can smell a marketing angle a mile away.
If you're open and honest and transparent with your audience, your audience might support you in a self-serving act of self-promotion, and your attention-seeking tactics might go over well and perform precisely as intended. If you treat your audience like idiots, they'll be more than happy to return the favor and expose you for a fool.
Whatever your motives, when in doubt, I believe in a simple system of gaining positive online traction: just keep it real. If you're doing the right things at the right times for the right reasons, you have nothing to fear from being yourself. If you're looking to use other people for your own selfish gains, you already lose. Period.
Star-Studded Train Wrecks
More recently, Samuel Clements delivered a list of "10 Social Media Screw-Ups From Major Stars." Lest we ever believe that celebrities should "know better," these what-not-to-do examples should give us even more pause for thought as we contemplate uses of social media that should never, ever see the Web. A random sampling...
Irish singer Sinead O’Connor penned an open letter pleading for Miley Cyrus not to allow herself to be exploited by the industry. The former Hannah Montana star then launched a vile tirade of tweets alluding to O’Connor’s mental health. Sinead O’Connor has bipolar disorder, and Miley publicized this through screenshots of tweets and asked her followers to recommend a psychiatrist.
Alec Baldwin scathingly attacked a Daily Mail reporter over an article written about his wife supposedly tweeting through the funeral of James Gandolfini. Baldwin used homophobic terms to insult and attack the reporter before he eventually deleted his entire Twitter account. The tweets threatened violent retribution to the Daily Mail’s reporter for the article.
A Scottish teenage girl posted a selfie of her with James Franco on Instagram. Nothing untoward about that, is there? But then the Spider-Man star sent her pictures attempting to seduce her. Amongst his messages were enquiries about her age and relationship status, as well as a question as to whether he should "rent a room" next time she is near him.
Let me be very clear about something: when I say that the key to social media is to "keep it real," I do not mean to say that personal spats, diabolical rants, or romantic affairs need be part of one's "real" online image. The line between "public" and "private" gets grayer by the minute these days, and so I understand that questions of etiquette or basic propriety might occasionally arise. However, in line with my practices of online promotion, I stress an equal-or-greater emphasis on the practice of integrity and character in these and all communications. In other words, I will never drop the expectation of common sense from my own conduct concerning social media, and I hope you never will, either.
That being said... nobody's perfect. I've made my own share of public mistakes online, and some of them have been pretty darn embarrassing. How about you? Have you ever committed a social media faux pas? If so, how did you handle it? Have you ever seen someone else pull out of a potential online collision? What are your favorite examples of social media screw-ups?