There were a couple of Twitter gaffes this week by companies that should know better. Both used the Ray Rice domestic violence story as the basis for a “humorous” tweet.
Neither were funny, of course, there’s no humor in the issue. Domestic abuse, no matter the age or sex of the victim is one of America’s “hidden secrets,” and it’s tragic, not funny.
One company took responsibility, the other blamed it on a “disgruntled ex-employee.”
But these kind of mistakes happen ‘fairly often’ at large companies, with the immediacy of social media and how tough it is to ‘take the message back’ once it’s out in the universe. By the time a company reacts to its prior lack of judgment, thousands, or possibly millions, have already noted the goof and possibly passed it on to their own networks.
Many companies, in their rush to stand out in social media, try edgier things to be a part of the conversation, and in doing to, fail to realize that these days, a company’s message can, and most likely will be, end up being controlled by their customers.
Last week I wrote about my thoughts on the fact that the Burger King C suite has some pretty young people in it; I’m all for the ambitious young, full of energy and ideas people (I was one, once), but I opined that people of that age probably haven’t made enough mistakes in their careers to be able to manage a multinational (or any size company, really) successfully.
I went on to further explain my opinion as saying I wasn’t promoting “ageism” but rather “experience-ism.”
What does that have to do with the social media goofs in the headlines this week? I would suspect, but don’t authoritatively know, that the social media employees responsible for these tweets are fairly young; most corporate social media departments that I have read or heard about are full of young people, “masters of the medium.”
Some larger companies have dozens of people on board reviewing, issuing and responding to social media, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and other sites.
The generation currently in the work force, and subsequent ones entering it, grew up in a world dominated by the short-burst message, whether those messages are (now) on social media, or (previously) in traditional media. Example: Pop Up Videos on MTV.
USA Today, the first, and possibly last, national newspaper, may well have started the trend, dumbing down stories so the lowest common denominator of reader could digest the ‘content’ in a paragraph or less. Conventional TV newscasts and cable news networks followed suit.
What this has created is a ‘headline’ society. It it’s printed, or broadcast, or online, it must be true. Bogus “news stories” can be run by one site or feed and picked up by media around the world before they are verified.
Even venerable news “institutions” can be guilty of distributing misinformation, as I noted in this disclaimer on a story from the Reuters news service today: “Reuters has not verified this story and does not vouch for its accuracy. “ What? Then why run it? It wasn’t breaking news (don’t get me started on “breaking news”) or an earth-changing story it was just fill. How many media sources will pick it up and re-run it as “news?”
What has all this got to do with the two social media hiccups?
Both errors could have been avoided by 1) taking the time to look beyond the headline to see what the actual #hashtag represented,” and 2) employing a “reasonableness test” prior to putting a message out there.
A headline, 144 character, 10 second tv ad society is going to have a hard time doing that, without oversight and instruction.
And that corporate error always rests at the top of the pile with the C suite officers.
Which brings us to the crux of the whole conundrum. How does one person who doesn’t understand something explain it to someone else who lacks a similar, but different type of knowledge.
Most CEOs in America grew up decades before social media was even conceived (except tor the Burger King guys, or course). To them, I imagine things like Twitter and Facebook are necessary nuisances today, but few have their own accounts or actively participate in the company’s message.
And that’s a mistake. A company has a soul and personality unique onto itself, and what shapes this solely rests in the CEO’s office, whose job it is to set the tone and rules for the company, and then to lead by example instead of dictate.
Next time I’ll write about how I feel this mentality has affected overall branding today.