Asking The Right Questions to Avoid Social Disaster

October 25, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

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.

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