When good social media goes bad

May 11, 2010

Five rules to remember when structuring a social media campaign

Fifty blogs, thousands of posts, and millions of tweets later, I realize that great social media campaigns have the power to build and enhance reputation and awareness, while bad campaigns can damage and distract even great companies.

In the froth of the creative process, all too often, the brakes come off. What would be considered offensive or high risk in the real world is thought of as cutting-edge and acceptable in the digital domain. After all, it is the Wild West, right? To gain attention, don’t you have to scream and insult?

Not at all, and nor should you. Instead, it would always behoove the creatives in the room to work alongside the suits and gray hairs in order to understand the risks associated with social media — and mitigate them. So here are five golden rules to always remember when structuring a social media campaign:

1. Look at the campaign from every angle and audience. The campaign might work for teens. Then again, it might offend employees, shareholders, and other consumer segments. The first rule of communications is to know your audience, and that audience should include anyone affected by the message.

2. Have a real business objective.
At the outset, the objective needs to be defined and documented. After 25 years of working in public relations, I have come to realize that social media offers PR firms the Holy Grail of being able to demonstrate results. Set performance metrics at the outset and build the program accordingly.

3. Forget about viral. Oh so many brand marketers create videos hoping they go viral, but so few contrived videos ever do. Those videos that do break through and generate millions of views are often accidental, with no marketing message whatsoever, like David After Dentist.

The other kind of viral video — the kind that some marketers point clients to and suggest that they are cheaper and easier to do than good old-fashioned marketing — requires millions of dollars to make. After all, compelling has a price tag. Check out Saatachi & Saatachi’s T-Mobile Dance.

Even here, there’s a degree of authenticity in that T-Mobile went the extra yard, spent real money, undertook a creative execution, and complied with the rules of the Internet (short, high-impact, and seemingly real life). Bystanders in the T-Mobile video appear to be real, so the viewer believes it’s an authentic stunt. Authenticity is the key factor with viral video. If viewers sniff out a fraud, it’s game over — a tree falling in the forest.

4. Digital communications live on forever. Make a fool of yourself once, and the act could be forever memorialized, showing up every time someone Googles the company or brand.

5. Be transparent. Don’t believe you can make a campaign succeed by faking posts or fan club membership; writing phony reviews; or conscripting employees, friends, or family to take part. What’s more, it could be illegal. Grassroots marketing must be transparent and the sponsor must be disclosed. A company that thinks it can hide on the Internet and use anonymity to sell or persuade simply doesn’t understand digital communications, and in the end, can easily be outted by purists who lay in wait to embarrass the insincere.

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Frank Freudberg
9 years 6 days ago
Hi Greg. Another outstanding post. Thanks. I'm writing to let you know how much I appreciate your ideas and observations. They serve me well in my business and I can't imagine others don't benefit too. Two of your posts in particular – this one ("When good social media goes bad"), and your "Seven Take-Aways from Gregory FCA's National Media Panel" post, present invaluable insight into the revolution we're all standing in the midst of. Someone once said that the future doesn't meet us head on, but instead rushes up from behind and over our shoulders as a giant wave. That's… Read more »
9 years 4 days ago

Great analysis and insights. Mot seeing this on other PR blogs. They're all self-serving. Thanks for providing useful analysis I can actually use. Sorry for the anonymous post but I work for a competitor tee hee