Over the past few weeks we witnessed a few monumental explosions of social media reactions. One over statements made by Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty.” The other one was from now former public relations executive Justine Sacco, who made of the infamous #HasJustineLandedYet Tweet. Both situations fall into the always attractive “hindsight is 20-20” silo.

Then as if those didn’t provide enough fodder for Facebook flame wars, politics wasn’t far behind with Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon referring to Arizona as a “racist wasteland.”


Thanks for keeping the party going, Joe!

The point of this particular post is what I call “content positioning.” That’s how I refer to a public figure’s (or a company’s) interpretation of the public’s reaction after they digest a piece of online content. It would seem that content positioning after the three notable instances above would be based on common sense. However, none of the content creators initially perceived their statements as problematic.

A myopic view:

Phil Robertson made comments regarding homosexuality and civil rights, overlaid with his personal religious beliefs. Whether or not Phil saw himself as a brand, his association with a popular television show makes him one by default. And within the context of his statements, he left himself wide open to interpretation and criticism.

Social media and PR professionals should be experts at creating and distributing information that is easily digested by the vast majority of their audience. In so doing, one would hope the professionally generated content would aggregate the most attention and rise to the top in most news and media channels.

The unintended:

Whereas a PR professional such as Justine Sacco should know that her statement could do nothing more than be interpreted at face value and ignite criticism. Nothing makes me shake my head more than this particular instance. Here is an individual who by all accounts specializes in helping other people avoid the very thing that she did.

Trash talk:

Again, one of the things that should be paramount when positioning your content in a public arena is the reinterpretation of the words. And while the loss of a football game to the Arizona Cardinals was a blow to Joe Fitzgibbon’s home state, his poorly executed attempt at ribbing the opponent missed the target by a mile.

But this is a guy thing. We’re talking about sports here!

Remember that we need to live up to the brand we created. We do not get time off from that brand, nor will our loyalists give us a pass if we blindside them.

Charles Clymer, a writer, social equality advocate and Army veteran, wrote: “You absolutely have freedom of speech, but you do not have the right to a guaranteed audience or freedom from criticism or freedom from private sector consequences.”

I could not agree more. We are given abundant freedom to express our beliefs in the United States. However, the reader, listener or viewer also has the freedom to digest this information and then express their own interpretation of what you created.

You will ever be able to create the perfect blog post, ad campaign or community discussion that will appeal to everyone. Knowing this, there are a few simple steps that you can take to not only protect yourself from situations such as the above, but also provide more value in the content.

Write it from the outside looking in:

Much like painting a self-portrait, nothing is harder than when you try to interpret a vision back onto yourself. If you see fault in how you’re trying to express it to yourself, how do you think your audience will interpret that information? Moreover, my new years litmus test is to always ask myself “Am I writing this for me or for my audience (you)?” In the end, if I’m not helping you in what I write then all [this] is a colossal ego feed and time poorly wasted.

Break down all your triggers:

In each of your posts, you have resource links, bullet points and calls to action. The intent of these triggers is to create action. Action can be any number of things: to click a link, to buy a product, to feel emotion, or to influence a decision. If your audience trusts you, they more than likely will follow your calls to action and embark on further discovery. But be sure that this same inertia can’t work against you equally as well.

Give both sides:

Last but not least is the tried and true method of giving both sides. By positioning your understanding of a situation with a more holistic vision, you remove the implied influence that you intend to have over your audience. This type of empowerment is good in some instances, and in others can present abysmal failure.

What do you mean by failure? That doesn’t even make sense. If you empower your audience to make their own decisions, isn’t that the best thing you can do?

It’s fair to say that in most cases it might be the best thing to do. However, if you have an audience behavior that is best led by your directive or leadership, then in so doing you have poorly positioned your content. In the end this comes down to how well you know the people that are engaging and your social media channels?

I know my content is not for a broad-base appeal, but it’s always my sincere hope that it help bloggers, social media professionals and marketers alike challenge their own thinking. In return I hope you feel you can challenge mine. Thanks.