Categorized | social marketing

Social media marketing: some people just don’t get it

Audra Shay Young Republican

Audra Shay says, “Look before you LOL.”

I am, I must confess, a social media marketing student. Not an expert, not even a proletariat. But as I’ve been cramming social media in the last year, I’ve learned one very important lesson: social media marketing is damn hard. Sure, plenty of people luck into social media success, but that happens in practically every area in business except for maybe operations. Outside of the blessed and the lucky, social media marketing a complicated, time-consuming, and terribly perilous enterprise. And to make it worse, social media marketing is becoming less of an option for more and more entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses. In fact, in the tech world, PR focuses almost exclusively on social media and its biggest stars to build buzz.

However, remember: it’s hard to do right and it’s easy to go terribly wrong. If you’re thinking about the social media marketing scene — or you’ve already plunged more than your pinky toe into it — you should pay close attention to a few of the most prominent missteps in social media marketing making big headlines around the nation in the last few weeks.

Murphy-Goode, or
“The Hand That Feeds You Is Also The Hand That Bites You”

This recent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates in spades how even the most brilliant, innovative, and successful use of social media marketing can come back and not just bite you in the ass, but bite your whole ass off if you just don’t get it at some fundamental level. And Murphy-Goode’s dilemma should give you serious pause. If people who are phenomenally good at this social media marketing stuff can screw up this big, what can you, running a business out of your living room or struggling with keeping your small business open, do?

To make a long story short, Murphy-Goode, a winery in Napa, came up with a PR campaign centered around hiring a social media maven to Twitter and blog and Facebook the wonders of Murphy-Goode wines and winery. Billing it as a dream job, this social media maven would live at the winery for six months — in wine paradise — and get paid $60,000 for all that writing and twittering and what-not.

Of course, Murphy-Goode could care less about the job. The whole strategy was to enlist hundreds of social media mavens to campaign for the job and draw attention to Murphy-Goode all over the social media networks. Oh, and to get some pretty major national publicity, as well.

Brilliant in the extreme, the idea caught fire in the media, being featured on national television such as Good Morning America — thus creating millions of dollars of publicity.

Now, here’s the deal. Social media haves and have-nots had to apply to the job by using social media to spread the word about their candidacy. The winery put up a site and allowed users to vote on their favorite candidates.

This, too, was brilliant in the extreme. For a mere $60,000 and some change, Murphy-Goode was able to get hundreds of candidates to blog, Twitter, put up YouTube videos, and otherwise advertise Murphy-Goode to hundreds of thousands of their social media followers — for free. Wow! This isn’t just social media marketing. This is the Platonic form of social media marketing. On steroids. Mad Max steroids.

But they neglected to tell all those followers (and most of the people who applied) that . . . their votes didn’t count. This wasn’t American Idol. This was Murphy-Goode hiring someone to do a job for them. And using the process to generate as much social media marketing mojo as they could. The whole voting process was, I guess, just a way for voters to amuse themselves.

They were not amused.

Once it became evident that the most “popular” candidates weren’t among the finalists and that everyone had been hoodwinked, all those followers who had previously been spreading the social marketing word suddenly turned on Murphy-Goode. With a vengeance. Previously, the social media airwaves were full of good cheer and spirit concerning the company, but the whoe thing turned negative and blew up in the winery’s face.

I have been a word-of-mouth expert for some time, and my first principle of WOM marketing applies in spades to social media marketing: “You have no control over it.” In social media marketing, you are enlisting people to spread the news about you, your company, or your products voluntarily and freely (in both senses of the word). As volunteers, they can turn on you for whatever reason.

So you must never give them a reason.

It’s hard not to slip up, but it helps to maintain the following insight. Positive word-of-mouth, whether physically or over a social network, is an honor and a privilege, not some kind of Machiavellian marketing strategy that shows how clever you are. Every follower you have on Twitter, everyone who reads your blog, everyone who friends you on a social network, and everyone who voluntarily spreads good news about you or your products, is doing you an immense favor and you should treat the relationship with respect.

I call it the Respect Rule.

“Respect and be grateful for every person in your social media network.”

It may seem simplistic, but if Murphy-Goode had followed that rule, no-one at the winery would have thought it a good idea to have people in the network vote and then not count the votes. Why? Because you’re treating people like dirt.

And you’re lying. In no playbook in the universe is lying something you do when you respect another person or are grateful to have them.

And I cannot begin to tell you how many people constantly violate this “respect and gratitude” rule of social media marketing. Almost every business on Facebook that I’ve friended doesn’t seem to know this rule.

Republicans, or
“Is this thing on?”

This is not a political blog, nor does it play one on TV. Sure, our politics crash the party here every once in a while, but we do strive for a studied neutrality. We are, after all, trying to help people with their businesses and startups, not win elections for politicians who don’t even know we exist. Suffice it to say that we’re not trying to take a poke at Republicans here or disrespect conservatives, even though, in the immortal words of Lee Atwater, “you should never kick someone when they’re up.”

That being said, we would be negligent in the extreme to all our readers struggling with social media not to draw attention to the travails and travesties the Republicans have suffered at the hands of their futilitarian attempts to harness the power of social media networks. No matter what political stripes you wear, you should be taking notes every time some Republican forgets my number one rule of social media marketing: “the microphone is always on.”

Most recently, we have Sarah Palin’s post-resignation tweets, but more especially Audra Shay, the leader of the Young Republicans, who “Lol’d” a singularly racist comment by one of her Facebook friends. In a short thread, a friend wrote the comment, “Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist… Muslim is on there side [sic]… need to take this country back from all of these mad coons… and illegals,” and Shay responded eight minutes later with: “You tell em Eric! lol.”

If you used the term “coons” in this sense on my Facebook feed, I’d defriend you before my heart beat a second time (thus eliminating the comment). If you used it in a comment to this blog, adios. It would never see the light of day. Period. End of story. And your email address would instantly go into the spam filter on WordPress here. No need to make a decision, it’s been made. And you know what? 99% of all businesses or entrepreneurs using social media would do the exact same thing. So I like to think I’m more in the mainstream here.

Whether I am mainstream or not, I can guarantee you that any person with any concern about the public face they present would never in a million years respond with, “You tell em . . . lol.” Listen, folks, I have no problem with Ms. Shay if she thought the comment was appropriate or funny (that’s her business — I learned long ago not to concern myself one iota with people’s prejudices no matter how egregious), but it sure was the worst kind of judgment to tell the entire world in on it.

Why? It didn’t take long for the comment to make it out to the blogging world and from there to the mainstream media. And while Ms. Shay was eventually elected President of the Young Republicans, the whole incident has not done much to burnish the image of Republicans among those who chose not to vote for them in the last round.

Ms. Shay (by the way, how is 38 years old a “Young” Republican? I’m a bit confused, here) responded that she had actually responded to an earlier comment by Eric and not this one, which is not only an entirely believable explanation, I actually believe her, since I’ve been caught in similar situations on Facebook. Be that as it may, when she actually posted the comment, then the entire comment list would refresh and the offending comment would appear right above her LOL response. Which would lead any rational person to then delete their response, understanding that the LOL response would be misinterpreted — and rightfully so. And then they would have defriended kindly Mr. Eric on the spot.

In case you think this trivial, we have nearly identical dust-ups by South Carolina GOP activist Rusty DePass (who in a joke on a friend’s Facebook feed insinuated that Michelle Obama’s immediate ancestor was a gorilla) and Mike Green (who Twittered a joke that Obama was going to tax aspirin because it was white and it worked).

Now, seriously, I’m not saying anything about politics here, Republican or Democrat. But if — and I believe this is a true — organizations like the Young Republicans exist to elect Republicans to office and people like Mike Green serve on election campaigns (he was on the staff of Republican Gresham Barrett’s campaign for South Carolina governor when he Twittered the aspirin joke) in order to achieve the exact same goal, that is, to elect Republicans to office, then surely, surely, they understand that saying stuff like this hurts their election prospects. And if they don’t understand that, then surely they understand that it doesn’t help? (Yes. And stop calling me Shirley.) Why would you do anything in social media that moves the goal posts farther down the field?

This is, I believe, a fabulously important takeaway about social media marketing. In fact, I call it the number one rule of social media marketing:

“The microphone is always on.”

Let me repeat that. When you use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, or any other social media marketing tool, the microphone is always on.

If you wouldn’t say something on national television and have it permanently associated with you, your company, or your products, then don’t say it in your blog, your Facebook feed, your Twitter musings, or any other place.

If you wouldn’t put something in a print ad or your Web site for fear that it will offend people or drive them off, then it doesn’t belong in your random social networking mumblings.

If you wouldn’t link to a Web site from your own Web site — out of concern that it may offend potential customers and drive them off — then it doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t belong in your blog or any other place.

If you want to elect Republicans to office, then don’t say anything on your social networks that you don’t want associated with Republicans. If you have to deny you’ve said it, then don’t say it in the first place. Anywhere.

Why does anyone have to be told this?

But most people really do have to be told this. And it’s better to be told this than learn it the hard way.

Now you understand why I strongly believe companies should keep their CEO’s away from Facebook and Twitter.

So, I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I’m not really bashing on Republicans here. But they sure have been ignoring “the microphone is on” rule of social media marketing something fierce recently. And no matter what your political leanings, you should be learning from them before you leap.

Or you, too, might find yourself in the hot seat for a “LOL” comment on your Facebook feed.

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3 Responses to “Social media marketing: some people just don’t get it”

  1. Kat says:

    Great post!

    By the way, it wasn’t necessarily just the comment that Audra Shay left that got her into hot water and had people claiming she was a “racist” because she encouraged a racist rant on her Facebook wall. It was the way she RESPONDED to those who called her out on the racist post.

    SHE DE-FRIENDED THEM, and kept the guy who posted the vile comment so that he could make an even more vile comment 12 hours later.

    When the bloggers started picking up on it, she had no other choice than to de-friend the guy, who for whatever reason, she had wanted to keep as a friend over the two OFFICERS who had called her to task for allowing such bigoted dialogue.

    When another blogger started digging and found even more comments BY AUDRA HERSELF that were derogatory, denigrating, and racist (think President Obama and ‘noose’), Audra’s actions proved to be quite telling…


    Could be she was worried about what ELSE might be found?

    Interestingly enough, the platform she was running on for the Chair position of the Young Republican Party, “emphasized rebranding the Young Republicans as more hip through Facebook and Twitter.”

    Ironic, eh?

    Your suggestions for handling social media like a “live mic” to the rest of the world are spot on. Bet Audra Shay wishes she would have followed that advice.

  2. Thank you for the great comment! You’re right about Audra Shay’s defriending the folks who called her on Eric Piker’s comment and not defriending the malefactor until the whole story had exploded into the mainstream press. In a recent interview I did on WEAA in Baltimore, this topic came up, and I added that the “live mike” applied to every friend whose comments feed into your stream.

    That both Republicans and Democrats are using social media in “business” ways (such as branding) leaves them wide open for criticism when they get it wrong. And the long list of Republican flubs, flops, and disasters in social media are more than just ironic, they’re actually typical. While most major businesses and a sizable percentage of smaller businesses are all stepping up to the plate in social media marketing with literally tons of resources, the ones who actually make contact with the ball are perishingly few. The world of social media marketing is chock-a-block with people saying the wrong thing, treating friends as if they were an opt-in email list, and, worse, simply ignoring people. Unlike other forms of marketing, social networking involves some level of give and take, responsiveness, politeness, and, well, friendliness. I’m going to be doing a post soon called something like “It’s called SOCIAL media marketing” and try to explore what the difference is between “friend” and “opt-in email list.”


  1. […] In a previous post, I promulgated two rules for your business and personal use of social media networks and marketing. My number one rule: “the mike is always on.” If you don’t want to regret saying it, don’t say it. […]

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