Asking The Right Questions to Avoid Social Disaster


Last week Jim Kukral surprised a lot of people announcing he was quitting blogging. His post sent a ripple through the socialsphere, some wondering if blogging had been killed in a world where Twitter and Facebook offer outlets for ‘instant publishing’. After all, if Jim Kukral, a known rock star, is throwing in the blogging towel, then it’s probably no good for the rest of us either, right? This must be our sign. The ship is sinking.

….or maybe we just need to re-evaluate what it is we’re doing.

This morning I found Jonathan Fields’ assessment of the Kukral/blogging situation. Jonathan proposed that blogging wasn’t dead, but that maybe this was a good time to take inventory of our own actions and decide if they’re helping us to meet business goals. How is what you’re doing in blogging/social media/whatever extending your reach and fitting in with your larger business model? I think Jonathan’s way of looking at things is great. I think they’re questions every business owner should be asking themselves. Maybe we even need to take it a step further.

If you’re in social media, why are you here at all? Blogging is just one component – what about the rest of it? Why did you enter social media and how is it allowing you to meet your goals?

Ask yourself:

  • What are your business reasons for doing X?
  • What actions are important to help you see a benefit from X?
  • What are the rules for the organization when participating in X?
  • Is X the best thing for your business, or could you see a better reward if you switched your focus to something else?

I think these are four questions that are often completely ignored when we evaluate our behavior and existence in social media. The danger is that by ignoring these questions it allows us to enter social media without understanding why we’re here. We’ve hopped into fast moving cars without any idea how to operate them. And that’s when disaster strikes our brand.

Here’s an example:

Last week the Washington Post made headlines when a memo was published that instructed journalists to stop engaging with readers on Twitter. The memo came a few days after a Washington Post staffer got in hot water for engaging with a GLAAD tweeter via a Post-branded Twitter account. The incident occurred when a staffer attempted to defend an opinion piece published that called homosexuality a mental health issue and, as you can imagine, the conversation didn’t go so well with the GLADD representative, especially in the confines of 140 characters. Realizing they had slammed their car fantastically into a social media tree, the response from the Washington Post was quick – there would be no engagement from Post-branded Twitter accounts and employees were not to use personal accounts to speak on behalf of the Post.

Interaction is over.

So, despite the fact that the Post actively grew a social media presence with an official Washington Post Twitter account and Twitter Lists created specifically to help readers stay connected with Washington Post reporters and Post social voices, they’re now banning anyone from speaking. Something went awry, the bunnies have been killed, and the result is a knee-jerk reaction intended to can all dialogue. Mashable accused the Post of going back to a ‘broken model of conversation’ and reaffirming disconnect between the news process and its audience. And while I’d agree with that, I also think it’s a sign that the Post jumped into social media without understanding why they were there.

Like so many businesses, it feels like the Washington Post entered social media because “they were supposed to”. They saw their competition jumping in and they acted, without ever thinking how it would build their business, how it would need to be handled, and, presumably, without ever giving reporters a road map for interaction.

That scenario almost always leads to disaster. And if it hasn’t yet, you just need to give it more time.

Last week, we saw a similar incident happen in my town of Troy, NY. The local paper has nicknamed it a Facebook Fiasco, as it involves accusations of censorship and wrong-doing after a city spokesperson banned elected officials from commenting on the Troy, NY Facebook page. Sounds salacious, right? Yeah, I know. We’re all really proud of it. And while there are cries of foul and malicious intent, I can’t help but wonder if what we’re really seeing is, again, confusion over what the page is about, what its purpose is, and what its role is inside the community. That was never sorted out, proper guidelines were never created and the result is a brand and public relationships nightmare.

If you get in the car without knowing how to drive, you will slam into a tree. And everyone will stand around you to watch.

I hear a lot of brands say they don’t want to become the next Washington Post. Great, so don’t. Before you mindlessly jump into social media, know why it is you’re there, how you’ll use it grow your business, and what interaction really means for your company. The best way to avoid disaster is to have a clear plan for interaction with identifiable goals. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for an epic brand collision.

If you’re not going to drive the car, don’t put it on the road.

Your Comments

  • john andrews

    Engaging in social media exposes who you really are. If you don’t want that known, by all means stop engaging. Geesh.

    More opportunity for those who deserve it?

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s definitely part of it. If you don’t want the spotlight on who you are, then maybe don’t step on stage. But if you ARE going to step on stage, at least have something prepared for when you get there. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when people throw shit at you. :)

  • Jim Kukral

    Sorry I missed you at Blogworld. :( For the record, I never said blogging was dead. Just in case your readers though I said that, I didn’t. Want that to be clear. For me… just not in my priority list.

    • Lisa Barone

      Oh, I know you didn’t Jim. I hope I didn’t insinuate that you did. Just that people took your “this isn’t for me, right now” stance and ran with it, as people are prone to do on the Internet. :)

  • Jon DiPietro

    I think it’s useful to differentiate between personal brands and corporate brands. As a personal brand, Jim rode his pony until he could afford a Porsche. Since he feels he can go further and faster, he’ll go that route for a while. It doesn’t mean that he couldn’t continue to reap positive results from blogging, but that he can get better results doing something else. But corporations aren’t one person and don’t need to make that choice. As long as their ROBI (Return on Blogging Investment) is positive, they can allocate resources to it since it’s not an either/or decision for them.
    The key is asking those questions you listed. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and with specific outcomes in mind.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s definitely a good point regarding Jim. As Jonathan wrote in his post, Jim doesn’t need blogging the same way Seth Godin doesn’t have to use traditional printing methods for his books anyway. The difference is you’re NOT Jim or Seth. You don’t have their platform or their audience, so your mileage will vary. I think it’s important not to write something off simply because an A-lister does. Their business is not the same as yours.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Well I suppose it’s pretty normal, nowadays, to feel you *have* to jump in social media, whatever company you run.
    I have heard people suggesting to start a social media presence without any clue whatsoever and without realizing they would have close to no benefit from it at all.
    I believe it’s mostly a cultural problem, people often mistake social media networks being “free” for “everyone can do it right and effortless”. It’s free so we have to use it, no harm. It’s free, so I’ll put an intern on it and keep it low cost.

    • Lisa Barone

      The problem is social media isn’t free. The tools may be, but the time and resource investment you need definitely puts a price tag on it, sometimes a considerable one. Social media is no different than any other marketing strategy. If you’re not prepared to figure out HOW it can benefit and what you need to do to make it successful, then you really shouldn’t be launching it. The way social media IS different is that when you screw it up, everyone not only sees is, they also talk about it. Figure out if it will benefit you, create your plan for how you’ll use it, and THEN jump in. Do not skip steps.

      • Gabriele Maidecchi

        “The problem is social media isn’t free. The tools may be, but the time and resource investment you need definitely puts a price tag on it”

        That’s a big issue.
        In the mind of most, social media = tools.
        That’s one of the misconceptions that needs to be fought.

  • Kristi

    Help, Jim’s website has horrible pop up window to sign his guestbook AND listen to a podcast with no close button? LOL – I must be blind, how do you close the damn thing to read his post?

    Aha. Just a note to host owners to ALWAYS check your popup windows. If you haven’t scrolled down and the popup window comes up, the top right podcast/iPadio icon is embedded over the popup window so it obscures the close window and you are STUCK. So glad I went back to the page to figure that out. I think.

    I’m talking to myself now.

    *ahem* This is just the same issue with getting educated in technology that CEOs need to take some freaking classes in. Or adults before they have babies. Or a 100 other things. Maybe in 6 months the Washington Post will figure it out.

    As for your city, I’ve found that all cities across the nation are getting a little ridiculous right now with the election next week. I don’t even want to talk about what’s going on over here. Feels like Kindergarten yet more dumb comments keep coming along. You would think people would realize that they are not anonymous on the web, yet they still keep trying…

    • Lisa Barone

      LOL I love the entire beginning half of your comment. :) Though I didn’t get a popup when I clicked on Jim’s link. Maybe I closed it at an earlier date and it remembered?

      I really do think there should be required education classes before people are allowed to do things. You want to have a baby, take this class. You want to launch a social media campaign, take this class. Imagine how much smarter we’d all be? :)

      And yeah, sadly Troy’s social media efforts have been laughable even before the elections were approaching. They’re just getting worse now. The Troy Record just public emails between people involved in the Facebook Fiasco. It’s not pretty.

  • Kristi

    I think those popups have cookies in them so you only see them if it’s your first visit, type of thing. It wanted me to sign up for his newsletter. :) SELand does that as well. I’m assuming I got it a second time because I couldn’t close it the first time so it didn’t ‘shut off’. Oh, I hate pop up windows anyway!

  • JadedTLC

    It’s going back to the entire Internet culture. In past paradigm shifts, (from oral to writing, to the printing press) the authorities (education/commerce/gov’t) always approached the changes with suspicion and caution. They were able to map out long-term issues and control the process, molding it into the best mode of communication possible. This did slow progress. The Internet, instead, was welcomed with open arms, and no one in power sat around thinking about the consequences – (what happens to copyrights; how and should commerce be taxed; anonymity; protecting children; allowing people to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, etc).

    In many ways, social media is just another increment of this process. Every business initiative should have the pros and cons weighed. I’ve noticed as corporations are suddenly embracing SEO as the “newest coolest bestest thing” (after years of calling it hocus pocus), but they are doing so carelessly. This is leads to these improper outbursts by the brands. And then they think, let’s pull our hand out of the fire completely. No, corporations, you can cook on fire, you just have to use a “TOOL” (and not your hands) to do it.

    Excellent article Lisa.

  • Facundo Zocola

    I do not think social media is free.
    And I do not think their tools are, either.

    Let’s analyze this a bit deeper.
    Nowadays, regarding your social media marketing/sales/communication decisions, you can choose from among many, many options.
    And is that good? Yes.
    But it can also lead to a bad choice. And then it happens to be not THAT good.

    Sometime ago, a friend of mine, while we were talking about our lives and problems, told me he’d rather not have an option in his decisions (not just the ones regarding business).
    And, although i’m not completely convinced that’s the best, I have to admit that, sometimes, choosing makes you commit mistakes you shouldn’t have commited, if not having to choose in the first place.

    So, back again, can you really try EVERY social media tool without losing money in the process?
    No, you can’t.
    If you choose A instead of B, you are spending your time, and your employees time in order to get something out of A.
    And, if so A happens not to be successful, you can go for B.
    But then, you will be spending that whole time again in B. Plus the time you have already spent in A.

    So…no. Social media tools are not free.
    Because choosing is not free.

  • Suzanne Vara


    That is the problem with why we are at where we are with social media. People screw it up and then run without ever knowing why they were there, how to use the tools and what they were striving for to get out of it. Others hear this and run. Why? Because they do not want to be the next one to fall victim.

    Jonathan’s article was great as he addressed this so well. This is what is right for Jim and not everyone. People will see this and there will be a flood of videos as well if it works for Jim, it will totally work for me. And, for some it may but yet many will discount the the work and credibility that Jim has done/created.

    I think if people would stop chasing the numbers and really sat back and understood why they are here, what they are really doing and what works and resonates with their audience, they would be more successful.