The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media

Social media like Facebook, Flickr, and Delicious has been around for a couple of years now and companies are starting to dip a tentative toe into the water. While such courage should be applauded, serious missteps have occurred that embarrass the offending company.

And it is not the courageous steps that have been embarrassing, but the sheer level of assholery with which companies have partaken their social media experiments. Because social media is all about sharing, collaboration, and communication, it is little surprise that folks expressed outrage at the heavy-handed or downright immoral dealings of the companies outlined below.

In this post, I will list five of the deadly sins as outlined by Joseph Jaffe's speech at the ANA's Integrated Media Conference and then offer two additional sins of my own.

From Joseph Jaffe:

  • Faking (Sprint): The phone company released ads in which the CEO offered an email address, giving the opportunity for communication. Instead, a corporate shill auto-responder emails back.
  • Manipulating (Sony): The maker of the PSP created a fake blog and attempted to manipulate the conversation. They ended up garnering a deserved "golden poop" award.
  • Controlling (T-Mobile): The phone company sent cease and desist letters to a popular blog for using a color they claim to have trademarked. The blogosphere revolted and T-mobile missed a chance to meaningfully engage with its customers.
  • Dominating (Target): A blogger was ignored by the retail giant because they felt she didn't have the clout of traditional media outlets. After the blogger gained more and more attention, Target claimed that their continued silence was based on a lack of adequate staff.
  • Avoiding (Starbucks): The coffee giant already felt a squeeze from its consumer base, but avoided a fan's desire to visit every store was passed on. The only response to the fan was one of suspicion.

In these cases, the sin is not that the company was just stupid (though there's no shortage of that). The sin is that they failed to engage at a pivotal moment with an active community that supported them with their checkbooks. They refused to join the conversation and felt the ramifications.

Here are my two nominations to round out the deadly sins of social media:

  • Greediness (AP): The Associated Press recently pushed for restrictions on the amount of their content bloggers could cite. In the era of Google juice, link love, and a wealth of online information, the AP chose the path of restriction, as though this greediness would result in keeping all of the information under their roof. It took only 24 hours for the back-peddling to begin and it now appears that they will wisely drop the call for restrictions. They had the opportunity to engage their readership, even empower the bloggers and other outlets who were distributing their content free of charge, but they trotted out the lawyers instead.
  • Cowardice (Dunkin' Donuts and Heinz): Dunkin' Donuts pulled a series of ads after political partisans attacked spokeswoman Rachael Ray's scarf for looking like a terrorist's (yes, you read that correctly - a terrorist scarf). Likewise, Heinz pulled an ad deemed by the small-minded to be "unsuitable for children" because the on-running joke throughout the ad ends with two men kissing (cripes, the explanation sounds racier than the actual spot). Instead of giving their customers some credit or engaging in a conversation about the merits of their arguments (or the absurdity of their opponent's), both companies caved. A conversation was passed up in favor of tucking tail and running.

These examples did not emerge from the company's social media outreach per se, but they do speak to elements in a new social media economy. When companies are scared to engage their customers, it is a bad sign. All of these examples - Jaffe's and mine - are based around fear.

I highly encourage you to read more about Joseph Jaffe's speech and read some of the other sources linked to in this article. Is your company scared to talk to its customers? Are you worried about what you might find out? Or do you have more examples of companies living the old way (dictating brand messages from above)? Let us know in the comments section below.

P.S.: I can't end a post about seven deadly sins without a hat tip to Sonia for writing the 10 commandments of social media. That sounds so much more regal! Her first commandment? "Thou Shalt Participate in the Conversation"...

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