Even social media experts make mistakes!

Even social media experts make mistakes!

Twitter fightIf you were somehow able to fire a virtual gun at Twitter, chances are you’d hit a social media consultant. Some of you may already be picking up the gun based on that promise, but wait – I’m making a point here. These consultants, marketing experts, tech journos, media geeks, futurists and other whatchamacallits (and I count myself among them, so watch it with that firearm) base their authority on advising brands and businesses on how to manage social media. So what happens when these same people don’t behave the way they demand of their clients?

Last week, there was a minor tiff in the Twittersphere between Laurel Papworth (@silkcharm) – a prominent social media consultant and trainer – and Lachlan Hibbert-Wells (Warlach) – social media manager for Earth Hour. Some of you may have seen it, most of you won’t. I’m not going to repeat the full story here – you can read some of the background on mUmBRELLA. Yet, days later the issues continue in a way that deserves comment – and a warning.

Some may see this post as a personal attack on a well known member of the local social media community. That couldn’t be further from my intention. This post is merely intended as a case study or observation, no different from others I’ve written concerning Cotton On or Witchery and their social media failures in an effort to provide lessons.

I’m also not setting myself up as some arbiter of social media right and wrong, and will welcome comments. I merely think it’s a discussion we need to have.

Professional and personal brands

Any social media consultant hammers home to all their clients the need for professionalism in social media spaces. Brands should be above petty name calling, negative campaigning and arguing with the audience. But what about personal accounts?

Most social media users are people, not brands, and therefore can react emotionally, can be hurt by abuse, can take criticism personally and so on. We would always advise someone who was being harassed or abused to block the source as a way of taking control back.

But some of us don’t really have personal accounts. Our personal identity becomes entwined with our professional persona.

Laurel Papworth is her own personal brand. She is a one woman business, consulting and advising and presenting on social media both locally and abroad. She is the brand, there is no clear division. Her 21,000 followers are following Silkcharm the social media brand and not Laurel the person and I think it is wrong to think otherwise.

So when handling negative issues in social media, the @silkcharm account should behave more like the companies she advises and less like the average personal account. That means leading by example, remaining professional, diffusing situations instead of giving them oxygen and dealing with negative feedback in a constructive, instead of retaliatory, way.

Behaving in exactly the way we advise brands to do, in fact.

The Social Media Inverse Effect

Any market should know that social media has the reverse effect to offline communications. The more you ignore a comment or try to make it go away, the more likely it will spread like wildfire. One bad comment dealt with politely disappears extremely quickly in the ephemeral world of Twitter. One bad comment responded to incorrectly, ignored or even blocked can suddenly be given oxygen.

In marketing circles, we all know the case studies; Dominos Pizza mishandling the YouTube incident, Cotton On ignoring the Twitter complaints about their T-shirts, how one simple Tweetdeck error by a Westpac employee exploded across Twitter. Social media has a nasty habit of taking what was a small issue and magnifying it rapidly so that it is seen by far, far more people than would have originally been exposed should it have been handled differently.

Sticking a head in the sand in social media – for example; by blocking critics – only ever makes things worse. This is exactly why we advise companies not to moderate away negative comments but to respond to them in a positive and constructive way. By deleting or blocking or moderating the negative comments, the complainant will only be motivated to shout louder elsewhere, attracting more attention back to the original comment.

That is exactly what happened in this case. The original tweet that started the whole incident – and the criticisms that followed – has now been seen, or repeated or discussed by many, many times more people than would have ever seen it when it originally appeared. A perfect social media FAIL.

Yet Papworth has continued to block critics, as Scott Rhodie – social media strategist for HotHouse – discovered to his surprise yesterday after asking Papworth to account for an inflamatory comment about the recent Digital Citizens event (Rhodie was one of the organisers). Instead of engaging in discussion and debate to reach an understanding, Rhodie’s request for an explanation was met with the block button.

Blocking critics prevents the free and open discussion social media is supposed to be about. Yes, emotions get high, and there is often a fine line between a debate and an argument, but the best of us are supposed to be able to manage even the most negative comments and attacks with professionalism.

Lessons learned?

I stress again, this is nothing personal. But I do want to fire a warning shot across many of the social media professionals who risk losing sight of the differences between their personal brands and the average social media user.

I’m sure Papworth stands by her approach and I’m keen to hear her opinion. But it does beg the question: “what are the social media rules and behaviours for personal brands as opposed to a regular account?”

What do you think? Should people who have combined their professional and personal lives into one social media identity behave differently? What sort of example should we all set when advising others on social media? When is blocking someone a reasonable response?