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May 13, 2009

Three surefire paths to social media FAIL!


These days, it seems like everybody's doin' this newfangled thing the kids are calling social media. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or one of the many other networks that exist out there on the intertubez, many clients are looking to establish their presence when it comes to social media so they don't fall behind the tide like they might have by not having a website back in '98

And while it can be tricky, there are several ways to win when it comes to social media. Zappos.com did it, and mega-brands like DellHarley-Davidson, Victoria's Secret and Google, too. But for these five successes, there are several thousand failures. 

Why? Well, I'm sure the reasons are plentiful, but from what I've seen as a young, slightly geeky dude who's been involved in this whole social media movement since back in the friendster days, there are a lot of ways to fall flat on your face in the social media universe. Here are the top 3:

1. You've failed to understand your medium.

Social media, you see, isn't like anything else you've ever done. It isn't print or TV or radio or guerilla or alternative media or traditional, one-way web communication. In fact, social media isn't a medium at all. Rather, it's an easy way to describe the collection of hundreds or thousands of different platforms on the web that allow people to connect with eachother. Where many of us go wrong, I think, is when we falsely believe that each or even most of these networks use the same tone of voice and rules of etiquette. 

A wise man, in a rather unwise moment, told me that "I don't have to know about Twitter to do Twitter." Luckily, this man has never had to "do Twitter" for a client -- because he certainly wouldn't do it well. Without first immersing himself in the network's world and gaining a rudimentary understanding of all it's unwritten laws*, an advertiser will fail to gain a following at best, and will piss off an unthinkable number of people at worst.

*Just for reference, here are a few of Twitter's commonly accepted rules in a strikingly familiar format.

2. You failed to drop the sales pitch

So let's pretend that you like Converse Chuck Taylors -- seeing as you're in advertising, that doesn't seem like too tough of a proposition. Now let's say that you believe your Johnston-and-Murphy-wearing accountant friend's feet would look positively rockin' in the classic low-top black model we've all come to know and love. How do you go about telling him about the shoes you think he'll dig, if only he tries them on? Do you tell him about breathable canvas uppers and reinforced eyelets? Do you make sure to mention that if you act before 10/31/10, you can receive up to $3.57 off after mail-in rebate? Do you do all of this through a megaphone from 3 inches away? 

Of course not -- if you talked like that all the time, you wouldn't have any friends to begin with, let alone possess the potential to make new ones. You'd definitely be much more subtle than that. You'd answer any questions he asks about your shoes, and lay off the hard sell. After all, he's your FRIEND, right?


3. You've failed to be willing to be transparent.

In just about every medium we use, ad dudes and dudettes get to select the information they want users to know. We run the sexy facts and figures and relinquish the ugly stuff to the disclaimer copy. Unfortunately for us, when it comes to social media, there is no disclaimer. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) about a brand, whether it be good or bad, is going to get discussed by your friends and followers. Did one of your customers receive positively awful service? Did a product fail to deliver on all of the promises you once wrote? Did your brand's CEO get caught in a seedy hotel room with a mistress -- or in a Swiss bank with an extra "bonus" from the company coffers? Then you can bet you'll hear about it from your online friends or followers.

Now calmly wipe the sweat from your forehead, change your pants if necessary, and listen up: all of these events, and all of these conversations were going to happen anyway. All we're doing by getting involved in social media is giving ourselves a voice in the community in which they take place. And used in the right way, this voice is a weapon we can use All we have to do is meet public outrage with simple, honest answers. If we do that, not only will quell our detractors, but we may even turn them into friends and advocates.

P.S. -- If you don't know about FAIL!ing, then you should probably crawl out from under that rock and visit the FAIL! blog.


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