What a week! I’ll be honest, I love to watch the social mediarazzi take up their keyboards in unison to rant, shout and posture around a firestorm of dialogue. While most of it is pure drivel and probably falling on deaf ears, there are countless observations, lessons and learnings from these feeding frenzies. This week (so far) we’ve had two that really stand out:
1) Catherine Sloane
Last week, I’m betting Cathryn Sloane, the University of Iowa author of the controversial post, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25,” was full of hope, optimisim and enthusiasm around her career aspirations. Today, I imagine she’s changing majors and considering a lower profile gig. The controversial point of view has been picked up by every blogger and most traditional publications as a demonstration in generational differences and perspectives. Cathryn has become the poster girl for who not to hire in social media. The complete opposite of what I’m sure her original goals were.
In many respects, I sympathize with Cathryn. She had a strong opinion and was compelled to share it in an open environment. While I agree that younger digital natives bring immense value to the social media world, it’s important to remember that the Social Media Manager positions are actually Marketing and Communications careers. While every other blogger and journalist has successfully communicated Cathryn’s missteps and pointed out her lack of actual communication since the post, it seems redundant for me to pile on. That said, here are a few key points that I didn’t see in many of the comments and responses to Cathryn’s point of view that should be noted:
- Organizations are not looking for just friends and conversation – managing a personal profile vs. a business profile has substantial differences. Most of Cathryn’s connections probably know her personally (there are only a few). A brand must entice, retain and ideally convert complete strangers into advocates and customers.
- Managing a personal network of 1,000 or so connections is hard work for one person. Having 1,000 connections is probably not worth the time or financial investment of a brand. While you may excel at managing and communicating with your network, the game changes as that network grows. What works for 1,000 doesn’t always work for 1 Million.
- Passion is important and so is taking risks. Cathryn showed passion and risk by writing such a controversial post, but her deaffening silence speaks louder than any word in her post. If you take anything away from this, know that Silence is not always Golden.
Which leads me to our next installment of Social Media Free Fall – Chik-Fil-A. This has also been covered ad nasuem by the likes of Forbes and many bloggers. Religion, sexuality, race – 3 dirty words in social media (there are more, but you get the point). In an election year where so many poloticians are routinely inserting multiple feet into their mouths, one would think that a large organization would steer clear of hot button controversy. It’s CEO Communications 101! Don’t lump yourself, or your organization, into a topic that is part of a candidates campaign platform. Give them money instead.
The Chik-Fil-A stance against same sex marriage came at such an unusual time. There was no need for it. What was wrong with just being a family run business? Why does the “biblical definition” of family matter if your objective is to drive revenue? It’s been over 25 years since the definition of “Family” resembled anything printed in the Bible. For Dan Cathy, President of Chik-Fil-A, to continue his rant to point out that they are “still married to their first wives,” was an attack on over 50% of the nations population. While the point of view on same sex marriage was bad enough, now he’s attacking the new family unit. Single parents, divorced parents, etc. As a result, cities across the country (including Boston and Chicago) are blocking new franchise openings because the companies stance alienates a substantial portion of those communities.
As expected, the backlash on Chik-Fil-A’s Facebook page has been flooding in. New comments are added by the minute and brand advocates are trying to make a valiant stand, but they are clearly outnumbered. New reports suggest that someone (Chik-Fil-A denies involvement) created a “fake” account using a stock image of a teenage girl to assist in responding to the issue. The account claimed that Chik-Fil-A pulled the Jim Henson toys (Disney owned) as a result of children getting their fingers caught before the President’s anti gay marriage statements. The community very quickly investigated and cried foul when the stock image was discovered and the Facebook account had been created only a day earlier.
There’s much to be learned here, but the key takeaways are:
- The amount of fans or followers your brand has is not a good indicator of their willingness to defend you in a crisis. We often here the words, “The Community will police itself,” but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. While many people may still love the Chik-Fil-A sandwich, it’s certainly not enough for many in your community to defend your politics.
- Don’t get desperate. Whether Chik-Fil-A created the fake account or not, it reaks of desperation and is a flawed premise. One person, whether real or not, is not capable of defending against a tidalwave of criticism. There is no elegant way out of this situation for Chik-Fil-A and grassroots tactics that are ill-conceived will only add fuel to the enormous fire.
- People reward you with their time in social media because of your product or services, not your politics. While sometimes support of a controversial issue can give you positive support (see: Ellen and JC Penney) it still comes with controversy that will anger a subset of your consumers. Be wise in your words and support of issues. Ask yourself, will this point of view have an impact on my business (positive or negative) and what’s my plan across all communications platforms, regardless.
So, the word of the day is indeed “vitriol.” It has been included in every post, tweet, article about both of these controversial topics to the point that I’m considering using Castoroil just to mix things up a bit. Some “vitriol” can be justified, but on other places it is certainly not warranted. Regardless, Silence is Deafening and enables, or rather breeds, vitriolic behavior. If you’re confident enough to speak your mind, regardless of how it will be received, then be confident enough to respond, even if you are wrong. In a world where people can hide behind a username, don’t allow yourself to be spoken to in a manner you would not accept in a face-to-face discussion. There is always a solution, even if it starts with, “I hear you and I am trying to learn more about your beliefs and how they impact my own.”