What Not to Do on Social Media

  |  June 13, 2011   |  Comments

Five social media learnings from Weinergate.

With the name Weiner, you'd think a guy would be careful with his, um, wiener. But not Congressman Anthony Weiner who has been at the center of a media storm resulting from Twitter-based exchanges surrounding his patronymic appendage. Beyond the obvious jokes, you'll find some important lessons for businesses engaged in social media. Further, you can proactively take some steps to ensure that you're not caught with your pants down.

Anthony Weiner's 5 Social Media Lessons

From a marketing perspective, Anthony Weiner's actions, while naïve on the surface, underscore the need for businesses as well as individuals, particularly teens, to understand the longer-term implications of social media interactions. By definition, social media is about the community where it facilitates the speed and breadth of information dissemination. Here are five lessons based on Anthony Weiner's experience.

  1. Think before you post on social media and other Internet platforms. Remember that a fast, impulsive moment on your screen stays on the Internet forever. Therefore, don't let your response go directly from your brain to your screen without a timeout before you hit the send button. Consider what your employer or clients would say if they saw this.
  2. Understand social media's social responsibility. Regardless of whether you're representing a business or yourself, know that there are real people with real feelings and emotions reading and interacting with your content who could get hurt.
  3. Be transparent. At Digitas' New Front 2011, P.J. Crowley stated that every organization has secrets and proprietary information. He specifically cited Google's secret algorithms and Coke's special formula that are these firms' competitive advantage. Transparency means that you need to be above board in your interactions, not tell all. Rick Stengel noted that, while we talk about transparency in black and white terms, it really has gradations.
  4. Don't intentionally mislead or misrepresent the truth. The bottom line is that the truth will come out and it will be at the most inopportune time. Remember that, in aggregate, the public knows more than you, so don't lie! Think the "wisdom of crowds."
  5. Come clean fast if you have a problem that goes public. Initially, Anthony Weiner should have kept quiet with a brief non-committal no-comment. After the facts emerged, he should have made a short statement and shut up. Instead, he made the situation worse, feeding the media frenzy. Therefore, if an issue about you, either personal or corporate, enters the social media discourse, don't cover it up. The sooner you fess up and tell the truth, the faster you'll take the air out of the conversation. Of course, if the issue goes deeper, it may not stop the interest.

5 Steps to Be Prepared for a Social Media Flare-Up

Whether your organization is proactively involved in the social media ecosphere or sitting on the sidelines, it's critical to be prepared for an issue to flare up because you don't control the social media conversation. Therefore, take these five steps to ensure your company is ready in the current 24/7 media cycle.

  1. Monitor social media for brand mentions. Here's where social media metrics and analytics are involved. Even without a social media program in place, you must vigilantly track the conversation and listen to what's being said. Use the best service you can afford. From free services like Google Alerts and Social Mention to higher-priced Radian6, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and Synthesio. Be aware that strong brand monitoring requires complex data analysis and takes time to implement.
  2. Create a set of social media guidelines. It's surprising that only 50 percent of firms have social media guidelines after three years of social media involvement. The reality is that every firm needs them to define what employees can do when they represent your firm and how they should identify themselves on their personal time.
  3. Develop, update, and practice your crisis management plan. Go beyond just having the name of the PR crisis management firm. You need a detailed plan complete with employee names and cellphone numbers across your company, not just PR and/or the CEO. Think every customer touchpoint, because the most likely time to have a crisis is at night, over the weekend, or on a public holiday.
  4. Have a contingency plan. Since there's little or no talk about contingency plans, I assume most firms don't have them. This is a plan that outlines the protocol when your social media representative(s) aren't available.
  5. Build your social media audience before you need them. To be able to effectively mitigate the impact of a social media firestorm, it's critical to have a social media platform where you have an engaged audience. For example, Ford's Scott Monty was able to contain an issue due to the support of his loyal Twitter following.

Even if your organization isn't active on social media platforms, the bottom line is to make sure that everyone in your organization understands the implications of their personal and professional social media interactions to mitigate the chances that your firm will face an Anthony Weiner-type situation. Further, take the Boy Scout approach and be prepared with brand monitoring and guidelines.

Do you have any suggestions to add to either of these lists? If so, please include them in the comment section below. (Please note that this isn't a platform for venting about Anthony Weiner!)

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

Her blog, HeidiCohen.com, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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