The Wrath of Everyone & How to Avoid It

The Wrath of Social Media

If you’re a brand (or a celebrity) and you make a mistake on a social network then expect the following:

  • Righteous fury directed right at you in a sudden firestorm
  • Personal insults and questions about your intelligence, character and integrity
  • Lectures from social media “experts” (usually in the form of condescending blog posts) providing you unsolicited advice on how to improve your digital and social communications
  • Threats of boycotts

Isn’t social media fun?

I’ve seen this pattern emerge over the last couple of years, but it has gotten worse lately.  The tolerance for an error or bad judgement by a company or a celebrity on a social network is at an all-time low.

The latest example is Ashton Kutcher, the TV actor and Twitter poster boy.  Kutcher was the first person on Twitter to break the one million followers threshold and has been an unabashed fan of the platform for several years.  Last week he set off a firestorm (and then all the rest of the bullets outlined above) by tweeting:

“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.”

The tweet is in reference to Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno being fired after charges of multiple child rapes and abuse of minors have emerged around former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  The scandal has been making headlines around the country, but apparently Kutcher was unaware of it before writing his tweet.

The dangers of being misinformed.  But the reaction was – per usual – fast and furious and obviously shook Kutcher, who subsequently announced that he was turning the management of his Twitter account over to a communications team.  And that decision, of course, has lead to even more ridicule.

The Wired blog Underwire noted (without an irony):

“By giving up control, Kutcher is severing the direct line Twitter gives him to his 8 million followers.  From this moment forward, his every tweet becomes a cipher: Did Kutcher really say that? Or was that a calculated statement cooked up by a marketing specialist.”

Wired failed to observe that Kutcher was also giving up the opportunity for nation-wide scorn for any stumble or misstatement. Over at Mashable, Lance Ulanoff said Kutcher was making a big mistake, but then writes:

“I’ve made my share of mistakes online and on Twitter. It’s not fun. In reality, everyone makes mistakes. Owning up to them, as Ashton did is a good thing. I’m also all-too-familiar with the feeling you get when you first realize that you’ve messed up. Queasy is the word that comes to mind. And when the negative response starts flowing in, the natural reaction is to want to run away. That said, while I have considered closing my Twitter account on one or two occasions, I can’t imagine someone else tweeting for me.”

Ulanoff can’t imagine it because he’s not a brand.  He’s a person.  For better or worse, Ashton Kutcher is a brand – like Starbucks or Whole Foods.  And he needs to protect that brand.

I think it is stretch to claim that Kutcher is quitting Twitter.  What he’s doing is putting up filters.  Why?  Because he just got hammered unmercifully for being unfiltered.

We are still in the nascent stages of figuring out how to integrate social networks into our lives and our work.  But one thing is clear – brands and celebrities get mixed messages from fans and followers on social media.  On one hand we demand raw, unfiltered content from them, but when they make a mistake – even a small one – the criticism is fierce.

My advice to every brand is to put up filters and strict processes for content creation and community management.  It isn’t worth it not to have these sensible filters and processes in place.  Just ask any brand manager who has been personally attacked for not following some random best practice or for violating a platform protocol known only to power users.

So why risk it?

Nothing is lost through diligent account management.  In fact, content and interactions that are filtered through customized processes and best practices enhance the experience for both the brand and the fan/follower.

Would any smart brand issue communications that wasn’t vetted through experts?  Of course not.  So why do it on social networks?

Don’t listen to those social media “experts” who claim that authenticity is lost if brands aren’t tweeting and Facebooking in real-time.  It isn’t true.  As long as a brands’ social media processes are rooted in its culture and voice then the communications are authentic.  How can they not be if they are being issued by the brand?

What do you think?


Wired blog post about Ashton Kutcher quitting Twitter

Penn State Scandal timeline via the New York Times

Mashable post on Ashton Kutcher quitting Twitter

The Only Guarantee in Social Media? Mistakes

3 Responses to “The Wrath of Everyone & How to Avoid It”

  1. I think this is yet another, ‘social media “expert” providing you unsolicited advice on how to improve your digital and social communications’ …

    After all, you said it … and then you did it yourself. And, sorry, he got hammered for saying something stupid. I’d say this is a misstep several magnitudes worse than simply being ‘unfiltered’.

  2. Hi James:
    Indeed, I’m providing guidance, so you got me there. But saying something stupid shouldn’t open a person up to ridicule, scorn and personal attacks. We have all said stupid things at one time or another. I know I have… We could all do with more civility and politeness in our society.

    Disagreements and differences of opinion are wonderful things, but let’s engage in them with respect.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.


  1. The Twitterverse: More Than Meets The Eye | Darryl Jonckheere - November 22, 2011

    […] to be shared. I’d say Twitter is a very real slice of life —unfiltered and usually quite raw. Take it or leave it. Yes, there’s a lot of crap as Amber Mac laments, but Twitter is also […]

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