Weinergate & Social Media Fantasyland: 3 Lessons for Marketers

Weinergate & Social Media Fantasyland: 3 Lessons for Marketers image anthony weinerNow that Anthony Weiner has exited in glorious fashion, we can take a look at the role of social media in his collapse-and lessons for marketers. Clearly, this isn’t really a “Twitter issue,” as Jason Falls pointed out. It’s Weiner’s fault-Twitter was simply the medium he chose for his stupid behavior.

Still, there are some lessons for marketers from this epic public downfall.

The biggest one is this: Social media is a double-edge sword. You can get easily burned if you abuse it or get careless.

It reminds me of when I was living in Denver Colorado years ago. I loved and enjoyed exploring the Rocky mountains- from those peaks, it was like escaping to another world. But when the weather changed, as it often did in winter, it could quickly turn treacherous. Mountain roads would become impassable, endangering naive tourists and others who hadn’t prepared.

Much of our online behavior is like the clueless mountain explorer. Once online, people think they’re in another world, separate and somehow protected from everyday real life forces. I could imagine Weiner escaping to his little world of fantasies and make-believe girlfriends, bantering and carrying on far away from the chatter and pressures on the Hill. It’s a modern day adult Disneyland, or “Weinerland.” (yes, I know-another bad play on an unfortunate name)

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Sure, you may not be hitting up on random women online. But you can still make stupid mistakes- even fatal ones. Social media makes it easier to screw up your brand, your career, even your life (just ask Weiner).

Some basic tips to avoid these train crashes.

1. Don’t get too comfortable online. It’s the quick, natural feel of social media conversing that lulls us into a false sense of confidence, leading to stupid results. This can conflict with the business world.

It’s easy to fall into this trap after you’ve been involved in social media for awhile. You know what you’re doing, right? But it’s the savvy ones who get in trouble. Weiner knew his way around Twitter. He had more than 60,000 followers, knew how to post pics, use hashtags and banter with followers.

Nor is he alone. Remember the case of the Ketchum account manager who got in hot water with one of the firm’s biggest clients, FedEx, when he denigrated their hometown of Memphis?

His tweet:

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’”

This got him a red-hot response from FedEx’ corporate communications team, public humiliation and undoubtedly a real butt-kicking when he returned home. (FedEx pointed out that it invests millions a year with Ketchum). The kicker: he had flown to Memphis to coach FedEx on using online social media.

Conversing on Twitter is not the same as a backyard BBQ. Everyone is listening.

2. Pick and manage your platform carefully. Who said you needed to be on every social media platform? Some are simply better suited for different companies.

The Grow daily blog had an interesting take earlier this week on the dangers of having a company Facebook page (Is Facebook Screwing Your Brand?) Using Budweiser’s FB page as an example, he shows how some odd wall entries can potentially tarnish a company’s brand.

Choose your platform carefully, and spend time crafting out a clear plan and strategy and goals for managing it. This includes guidelines for employees and/or others who will be posting.

3. Use common sense. If it feels wrong, don’t do it. Is it really safe to have 20-year-old intern posting all your FB updates or tweets? (I’ve seen this more than once).

The true test is how it will play out in public.

You know, for example, if you’re hiring an agency to do all your “personal” sounding tweets, and people find out, it’s not going to look good. If there’s any question, divulge as much as possible. Transparency is critical.

And if you do something really stupid and get caught, fess up. Weiner’s wild lies about being hacked really helped sink him. Whatever shred of credibility you may have had before will be destroyed once you start lying to cover your trail.

Social media is your ally-but it can also burn you. Use it wisely.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 2

  • Mark, you make excellent points, but I have to wonder how knowledgeable Weiner was about Twitter. I seriously doubt he knew that direct messages aren’t all that secure since every third-party app that’s been authenticated can technically access your DMs. If he’d known that, I’ll bet he’d never have sent a photo of dubious distinction over Twitter!

    @CarriBugbee

  • Mark Ivey says:

    Weiner had more than a passing knowledge of Twitter. He knew how to use hashtags, converse in Twitter style (conversationally, at times joking, playing with his followers), upload pics. He worked to build over 60k (now 77k) followers, so he was doing something right. I agree, though, he wasn’t as hip as he thought and lacked deep technical knowledge, etc. Most observers say his Twitter use was uneven and flawed-until finally he made the Big Mistake.

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