As has often been observed, there’s something irresistable about schadenfreude. That’s one reason for the obsessive finger-pointing by the digerati every time a new brand experiences a social media crisis.
Another may be our unholy desire for traffic. After all, I’m writing this blog post in response to today’s Nestlé-Greenpeace-Facebook storm (if you’re coming to this story late, Sam Ismail’s post offers background). More to the point, at least four bloggers cleverly promoted their coverage of the events in the Facebook comment stream.
Several social media mavens got so involved that they joined the side of the protesters against Nestlé: twittering animatedly, changing their avatars, publishing lists of brands owned by Nestlé (and therefore eligible for boycott), or by referring the community manager to the Cluetrain Manifesto or Gary Vaynerchuck videos.
Examples of similar foul-ups pepper our presentations, mine included: I’m presenting on crisis management on Tuesday. All my case studies come down to two things:
- people inside your business fucking you over through ill-will or ignorance; and/or
- people outside your business fucking you over through ill-will or ignorance
Put that aside. As an industry I’d argue, it can seem that we’re obsessed with failure. And we’re nasty with it. Other than politics or the pro-wrestling circuit, I can’t think of another industry so ready to criticise one another in public. At each new crisis, the web buzzes with our speculation, exaggeration, misinformation, chinese whispers, and rumourmongering of which the events of today were just an example.
Social Media Pogroms
Why are social media gurus so ready to criticise each other in public? I suspect that our readiness to criticise the brands and agencies for whom (under different circumstances) we might work is in fact an artefact of social media. This is a an example of social behaviour. Compare it to mob behaviour. Playground behaviour where netiquette is ignored. We want to join in the fun; even when the fun turns out to be kicking someone when they’re down.
Kerry Gaffney and I once came up with a rule-of-thumb: “don’t be too quick to jump in because there but for the grace of God go you.” It sounds sententious, but we reckoned that it would pay off in time; people would, we felt, be less likely to jump on us when we inevitably #failed.
Here’s what I think: until we can grow up and leave the playground, we won’t be able to help our clients gain the confidence they need to make the right decisions in this area.
Individuals should try to come to terms with the fact that they work in marketing; and stop trying to moonlight as anti-globalization anti-corporation cowboys. Learn to love what you do, for fuck’s sake.
And I think we should go a step further. We should stand up for each other. Only a very few (and highly honourable) people stood up for We Are Social when they took an unnecessary pasting over Eurostar. I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t one of those; while like many others I left messages of support on Robin’s post, I didn’t help to fight fires on TechCrunch or elsewhere.
And that brings me to the last idea: where we can, we should probably try to help clients in distress — even if they aren’t our clients. That might help our industry look professional and responsible. It’s a bit of a big ask: “why,” you might ask, “should I spend valuable business cycles helping someone else’s client?” But wouldn’t it be more constructive than spending those same few meagre cycles adding fuel to yet another social media fire?
Incidentally, in the unlikely event that you’re interested in my take on the Nestlé situation: a bunch of social media gurus and pre-existing anti-Nestlé activists probably won’t do too much damage to the brand. Anything to do with Facebook has a whiff of slacktivism to me. Within a week or so there’ll be another stinking piece of Social Media carrion around which we can snarl and posture. Also, a campaign to knight Eddie Izzard seems to have more traction in the non-guru social media world.