Social Media: The Critical Conversation You Didn’t Have

Brand bibles, FAQs, and troubleshooting guides can provide general outlines of Do’s and Don’ts, policies and common steps to issue resolution. As helpful as these resources may be to a social media specialist (or customer service rep), they can’t replace personal experience and direct exposure to an assigned product or service.  A more dimensional and holistic training approach is critical to help front line staff make smart, informed, and controlled choices.

Several high-profile brands gained attention recently as a result of social media snafus. The interwebs buzzed about Red Cross and Chrysler; the former serving as a good example of what to do when a certain type of crisis hits. In contrast, the latter spawned much negative discussion over the actions of the iconic auto maker, the agency managing its social media participation, and the person assigned to operate the Twitter account.

The Red Cross incident got us laughing. A new phrase (“getting slizzard”) was coined to describe relaxing and having an adult beverage (or two) with friends.  Handled with aplomb, grace, and self-deprecating humor, dare I say the venerable institution suffered no longer than a nanosecond in social media years due to the errant tweet.  The incident even took a positive route when citizens began donating blood to carry on the hashtag meme.

But the Chrysler debacle raised several issues for some folk:

  1. Chrysler’s decision to use an external agency to tweet on behalf of the auto maker
  2. The flavor of the off-brand tweet itself
  3. The creator of the unfortunate tweet possibly skirting responsibility for his unfortunate actions
  4. The agency’s decision to terminate the twitterer
  5. A glaring paradox. Elements of the tweet (use of profanity and rude attitude to Detroit) suggest the person tweeting was unfit for the social media role and as such, poor representation of the Chrysler brand. Yet Eminem, celebrity endorser for Chrysler’s recent “Imported From Detroit” campaign, built a multi-platinum career on his misogynist attitude and profane lyrics. It might seem the commercialized,  immoral potty mouth you know is more acceptable than the blind-tweeting, angry potty mouth you don’t.

Then there are the conversations that started in the wake of these snafus which pontificated where social media should live – in marketing, corporate communications, or  shared organizational ownership – as though some other arrangement would have precluded the gaffes. As though a different nexus of control would have provided a cushiony buffer from blunders and placed its members beyond reproach.

I Fail, You Fail

I call B.S. Here’s the thing I think almost everyone’s forgetting – we all make mistakes. And sometimes we even have inadvertent help in our failings. Those T-Rex size errors can cause significant damage to timelines,brand immersion relationships, or budgets.  And as damaging as they may be, I think what we should be doing is looking at root cause, not last-man attribution.  So yeah, the youngling made a really stupid tweet. He exercised poor judgement, probably fresh from a frustrating ride into work. But did anyone stop to look at how the pivotal moment when he clicked the “tweet” button came to be? Until those steps are examined, this type of snafu will continue to happen. Social media governance will only get stronger when we bake learings from these “a ha!” moments into our guidelines.

Brand Immersion

I don’t know anything about Chrysler’s social media policy, New Media Labs’ training protocols, or the tools and methods employed with their client accounts. That said, I’m betting that hands-on employees (like the 25-year old who made the career-altering tweet about Detroit) receive little by way of brand immersion when they’re handed the keys to the accounts. At best, they may get some type of dry brand standards manual that does little to help them inculcate and absorb key brand values.  We remember best that which we experience with all of our senses – these people should be touring factories, examining auto spec sheets, reading customer survey feedback, test driving vehicles, interviewing sales people, and anything else necessary to successfully represent the brand online.

I wonder what information may have been shared with the rank-and-file with regard to Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” campaign. Did they see the final polished spot on the big screen, same as the rest of us? To someone unfamiliar with the fundamentals of brand positioning and core messaging, the long-term strategic objective, that commercial may have simply been a hot ad. In the absence of knowledge about what made Eminem so significant (to Chrysler), someone might have mistaken the celebrity endorsement as tacit permission to carve a more raw edge with tweets and updates.  See what I mean about having  inadvertent help when we fail?

Everyone Needs The Knowledge

Bottom line? If a branding idea is important enough to warrant a series of briefs and months of creative development, then consider the ways the idea will touch every employee and agency partner. Better yet, develop agency partnerships built on mutual respect, trust, and a shared set of objectives. Invest in the relationship with 360 degree brand immersion. Have the frickin’ conversation about what it means to represent your brand!

Remember ~ Brand stewards don’t always carry employee badges; sometimes they sign the visitors log.

What’s your opinion – did the right thing happen when the young man was fired? Was it enough? Too much? What could or should have happened differently?


3 Comments for: Social Media: The Critical Conversation You Didn’t Have

Gini Dietrich

You already know what I think. We don’t know if Chrysler asked for him to be fired or if NMS did it in good faith (and then got fired anyway). But, as an agency owner, the moment we begin allowing our clients the ability to hire and fire our staff, we’re doomed.

Thanks for tagging Spin Sucks here so I could discover your blog!!


Heather Rast

Gini, I appreciated your post on this topic for several reasons. First because I truly recognized the example of young Gini – I’ve had that precise moment myself. A crowning moment – back when faxes were still ‘in’ I was told to send my boss’s handwritten meeting notes over to the client via fax…he’d doodled “Lindy is a _itch” in the margin (referring to the client). Yeah, that required some two-stepping.

The second reason your post spoke to me was the assertion that your house is your house – it’s your charge to evaluate, train, and coach those within it, not the client’s. If the client has that kind of power over your agency’s methods and means, then precisely what are they paying you for? To execute mindlessly? I think the firing was a bad “bold move” by NMS, one intended to save their bacon. As I said in this post, however a poor choice the account person made, he had some help, and NMS (and other similar companies) will do well by figuring out how to be a better extension of their client brands. The tactical elements and processes have to be in place, but without a deeper appreciation for the brand culture and equity, these types of subjective mistakes will continue to happen.

So glad you stopped by! Thanks for your comment.


Ben Johnston

This is a great post and really highlights the issues that many companies have when it comes to social media. Too many agencies just go “Yeah, we do that too”, put it in the hands of someone with no real training and hope for the best.
Like you say, Teach before Tweet.

Thanks for the read.
Ben Johnston´s last blog post ..When Canonical Tags Attack!


Leave a comment


CommentLuv badge

Brand-Building Digital Marketing

Insights & Ingenuity helps brands earn customer preference.

We develop relevant, defensible brand positions, web content and content tactics that tell a compelling story while actually being useful to readers. We think our approach supports brand awareness and conversion objectives in ways that are appropriate to the brand and rewarding for its audiences.

Get Friendly

© Internet Marketing, Branding, Content Marketing, Social Media – Cedar Rapids, IA 2014 - Heather Rast, Principal