Lucky for Spiro T. Agnew, he did not live in the age of the Internet Meme. That’s not to say he wasn’t able to fail just as spectacularly at the hands of old media.
In fact, the history of epic fails begins long before even when old media were new. It is replete with wars gone wrong, products that bombed, and politics most foul. And when something fails utterly, it often becomes part of the lexicon:
- The Battle of Waterloo
- New Coke
It could be argued that collectively we have met our social media Waterloo in our endless desire to promote our milestones, our accomplishments, our hobbies, our travel, our ideal mate, and our adorable cats via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, LinkedIn, Tinder, Tumblr, and YouTube.
As we continually up the ante with posts designed to brag, promote, and burnish our individual and our business reputations, we run the risk of crossing a personal Rubicon. Bill Cosby being the latest object lesson.
Last month, when Cosby’s PR team decided to have some fun with the comedian’s social media image – and perhaps make him a trending topic – by posting his photo on Twitter and urging followers to “make me a meme,” they were stunned at the almost instant negative response.
Dozens of allegations that Cosby was a rapist, plus a link to comedian Hannibal Buress’s recent rant about Cosby’s past, forced Cosby’s team to take down the Twitter feed. And, as we well know, the controversy has raged ever since, resulting in Cosby being dropped from NBC and Netflix projects and resigning from his alma mater’s board of trustees.
Most of us won’t try to turn our public persona into a meme by trying to spread our image and personality across the Internet. But, the temptation to promote businesses or services via the meme/hashtag/viral video route is strong.
Show me a PR professional who hasn’t had a client say, “I want our video to go viral,” and I’ll show you one who doesn’t have any clients. It’s a “careful what you wish for” desire.
Who wouldn’t want their roast beast recipe or their reindeer-neutering how-to video to become trending topics – to be featured on CNN, Jimmy Kimmel, and Taylor Swift’s Twitter feed?
It’s best to have your creative team focus on your business’s strengths – maybe even produce a clever, well-made video – and use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, et al to tell that story.
It might not be sexy, it might not go viral, it might not trend, but chances are it will shield your business and you from the twittering nabobs of negativism.
Hashtagging a cause is:
- Extremely effective
- Somewhat effective
- Not at all effective
- All of the above
In 2014 we have seen:
- More than one million people, including First Lady Michele Obama, tweeting #BringBackOurGirls in an effort to put the spotlight on the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram
- #CancelColbert in response to a supposedly racist tweet on a Twitter account associated with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report
- Our Facebook and Twitter feeds inundated with #IceBucketChallenge (and the concomitant videos) that raised awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS
- The #YesAllWomen campaign that seeks to document women’s aggravation with sexual harassment
As for the effectiveness of the above:
- University of South Florida sociology professor Robert Benford said of #BringBackOurGirls: “It’s doubtful that the terrorists who engaged in this activity will say, ‘Gee there are a million tweets. We better let them go.’”
- The “racist joke” that prompted #CancelColbert was actually a joke criticizing racism
- The #IceBucketChallenge helped the ALS Association raise $100 million this summer, a 3,500% increase over last year
- The “YesAllWomen effort is, according to Professor Jean Burgess, a digital media expert at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, a prime example of hashtag activism. “Unlike other hashtag campaigns, which might just be reimaging the same message, most people who hashtag #YesAllWomen also submit their own story on social media.”
The tally: one extremely effective (#IceBucketChallenge), one somewhat effective (#YesAllWomen), and two not at all effective (#BringBackOurGirls and #CancelColbert) hashtag campaigns.
Which brings us to #GoodellMustGo.
- Earns $30 million a year as the commissioner of the National Football League, the most powerful sports entity in the United States
- Controls the lucrative, billion-dollar broadcast deals with ABC/ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox – deals that are exempt from federal antitrust regulations
- Approves the practice of NFL team owners demanding and receiving taxpayer support for new stadiums
- Exploits the fact that the NFL enjoys nonprofit status – just like the American Heart Association, except without the heart
The NFL’s clout under Goodell’s leadership has allowed it to, among other egregious acts:
- Ignore – until recently – the tragedy of players who suffer, and have suffered, various degrees of brain damage related to concussions
- Prescribe painkillers – “hand out drugs like it was Halloween candy” that has had long-term deleterious effects on players
- Let stand the racist nickname of its Washington, DC franchise
- Permit players accused of beating women or abusing children to remain on the field or receive only anemic suspensions
With the recent release of the complete video – thank you, TMZ Sports – of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé in an elevator, Roger Goodell is being taken to task for covering up and trivializing domestic abuse by certain of his players. (The video released last February of Rice dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator apparently wasn’t enough.) Sponsors, also slow to voice concern, are doing it now, and that is commanding the commissioner’s attention.
A Photoshopped image from Cover Girl’s “Get Your Game Face On” campaign – a series of “official team makeup looks” for female fans that was promoted on Cover Girl’s website, as well as on Pinterest and Instagram – now sports a blackened left eye. That doctored image, paired with #GoodellMustGo – is trending nicely.
The women’s rights group Ultraviolet has been leading the charge on the #GoodellMustGo, and the effects of the campaign, coupled with the doctored Cover Girl image, have spread beyond Twitter. As a result, Cover Girl has dropped the campaign and some think it might drop its involvement with the NFL. Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch, Campbell’s Soup, McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Visa have made it known that they are not happy about the lingering inaction by the league concerning domestic violence.
As Fortune magazine reported on Monday: “Women’s groups are aggressively rallying for the commissioner to resign, and the hashtag #GoodellMustGo has taken off on social media. [New York] Senator Kirsten Gillibrand added her voice on Sunday by saying that there should be congressional hearings on the NFL’s handling of the scandal; while [New York Times columnist] Maureen Dowd weighed in to say that Goodell must resign. ESPN anchor Hannah Storm also gave a passionate monologue on air that questioned the “NFL’s values and integrity.”
Even avowed sports fan Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s Late Night, weighed in negatively this week with a comedy bit that concluded with Myers suggesting – in all seriousness – that Goodell must, indeed, go.
To be sure, a few notable names have supported Goodell during this latest controversy. No surprise, Dan Snyder is one of them.
We’ll know soon enough if the hashtag campaign against Goodell – and really, against the historic hubris of the NFL – will be extremely effective, somewhat effective, not at all effective, or all of the above.
In the meantime, this is an unfortunate object lesson for all of us in understanding how hashtag activism can sometimes change the way we view and react to our world.
Gordon E. Moore is perhaps less well known for being the co-founder of Intel than for formulating Moore’s Law. The original law dates to 1965 when Moore wrote that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. More recently, Moore’s Law has been applied to almost any tech component, from memory capacity and battery life to computing power and processing speed.
It could be argued that the law also applies to the media world.
It does seem that every 24 months the number of platforms and the new ways of leveraging those platforms double. It used to be easy to promote your business: take out a Yellow Pages ad, maybe buy some radio and TV, and order up a newspaper display advertisement. Then came cable, the Internet, social media, and the scary-sounding “guerilla marketing.” Now, in order to succeed, your business needs to have a presence on:
- A website
And you now need to be able to:
- Shoot and edit video
- Keep up with the comments left by those who like what you’re doing as well as those who criticize your business and then veer off into a rant about… well, you can fill in the blank
Then there’s the complexity of the types of media messaging:
- Branded content
- Earned media
- Native advertising
- Public relations
- User-generated content
- Paid advertising
A recent study commissioned by inPowered and conducted by Nielsen, found that earned media – stories by reputable journalists from third parties such as newspapers and television newscasts – were 80 percent more effective in raising awareness of a business, product, or service than were business-generated branded content/native advertising.
As for those user reviews that we find helpful on Amazon and TripAdvisor, the inPowered study found that earned media lifted brand familiarity 50 percent more than user-generated reviews.
This is not to say that everything old is new again. Your business can’t survive on an ad in your town’s weekly newspaper and that website that your nephew designed back in the day when you looked forward to the postal carrier delivering the latest AOL CD. Ignoring social media, not blogging, not posting, and not regularly updating your website are some of the dozens of missteps that you need to avoid.
The inPowered study concludes with several recommendations that essentially advocate a media mix:
- Build trust with credible content from third-party experts
- Once trust is established with your customers/clients, use branded content to share your story
- Encourage customers to generate user reviews
- Continuously use more trusted content
And we’d add: Think about how you consume content and how you become aware of products and services. Perhaps your business will thrive on Pinterest alone, but it might also need eBay, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
If you’re a regular customer of Amazon, and you read your local newspaper (in print or online), listen to the radio, troll through Twitter, watch a local newscast, and place your trust in user reviews, then probably your customers do as well.
Depending on your point of view or frame of mind the most engaging (or annoying) social media posts are the click-bait “You Won’t Believe” videos and the “What Kind Of…” quizzes.
The videos employ “unbelievable” headlines that hook:
- A Baby Deer Showed Up On Our Porch, You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
- Punk Rocker Gets a Major Makeover and You Won’t Believe the Results
- A Cat Climbed Into A Horse Stall, You Won’t Believe What Happened
- You Won’t Believe What This Seal Did To This Journalist (Actually, I might.)
In truth, the videos can be fun to watch, and the fact that some are native advertisements created and posted by corporations seems a small consideration for the entertainment value. (See Purina’s Dear Kitten)
The quizzes, which are generally posted by BuzzFeed, Zimbio, and other entities looking for online traffic or to spread awareness of their brand, are equally engaging:
- What Game of Thrones Character Are You? (Arya Stark. Much as I’m drawn to mothering dragons, I’m apparently a precocious 12-year-old.)
- What should your name actually be? (Willifred.)
- Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You? (Anne Elliot. I’m actually okay with that.)
- Which Country Should You Really Live In? (Egypt. Go figure.)
You can opt to post your results (I’m Olaf The Snowman: Which Frozen Character Are You?) or keep them to yourself (I’m Pol Pot: Which Historic Despot Are You?). The entertainment value is variable. For instance, it’s more fun to be told that, of the Hollywood movie legends, you should be Lauren Bacall versus Stan Laurel. Yet, many of us are compelled to play on.
What I have yet to see is the What Kind Of Business Are You? quiz. There would be so many ways to construct this quiz, but – were I to do so – I would include these questions:
- Are you customer focused?
- Do you answer customer inquiries quickly?
- Are your bricks-and-mortar and your digital storefronts up to date?
- Do you use social media to enhance your message and your brand?
- Do you treat your employees with respect?
- Is your spell-check turned on?
This list is far from complete, but if you can answer “yes” to every question, chances are you’re running a thriving business with happy customers and dedicated employees. In other words, you’re L.L. Bean, Trader Joe’s, or Apple.
The business-quiz gods are fickle though, so remember that one or two false moves and you’re Amazon The Prince one day and Amazon The Toad the next day – and you won’t believe what happens next.
Recently, I was walking along the Marginal Way cliff walk that hugs the rocky shoreline of Ogunquit, Maine. To the left was the Atlantic Ocean; to the right were lovely homes that ranged from modest Capes to impressive mansions – some of which were for sale. So, I pulled out my iPhone and called up the websites of the realtors who had the most intriguing houses. I’m not in the market to buy, but it’s fun to window shop and see, for example, what a 1929, two-bedroom, three-bath, 2500-sq. ft. “cottage” would run me.
Unfortunately, the “cottage” realtor’s website was not a responsive web design (RWD), so the photos of his listings were scattered across my phone’s screen, and the text was too small to read and seldom matched the photos. Upon returning to my own – not-for-sale – home, I called up the site on my MacBook Pro and found:
- A slow loading homepage that looked as if it had been designed in a 1995 remedial HTML class.
- A “Search Listings” button that showed me photos of five realtors instead of, you know, listings.
- A warning that I had landed on the listings page “in an unauthorized manner.”
It’s rather astounding that any business today can presume to muddle along with an inadequate digital presentation. If it were 1982, you wouldn’t barricade your office door, allow peeling paint on your building’s facade, display your inventory only in the basement, and then presume to use the motto: Fresno’s Finest Fancy Furniture.
Responsive web design allows you to put your best Cinderella slipper forward. It also saves you from the embarrassment of having your impressive array of collectible Hummels mislabeled when viewed on a mobile device – because there’s nothing worse than an irate customer who thought he had ordered Grandpa’s Boy but actually clicked on The Little Fiddler.
If you think your customers and clients don’t use mobile to search, compare, and buy, then consider this October 2013 SuperMonitoring.com study
that found that:
- 50% of cell phone owners used their phones as their primary Internet source
- 72% of tablet owners used their iPads to make online purchases each week
- 57% of cell phone and tablet users said they would not recommend a business that had a poorly designed website
- 52% of tablet owners preferred shopping via their tablet rather than their PC or laptop
The 2014 version of that study will no doubt see increases in the use of mobile to surf and search the web, and to make online purchases.
Here are two suggestions:
- Incorporate RWD for your digital presence – now – so that your services and products can be easily accessed and consumed across all screens: laptops, desktops, mobile, and tablets.
- Prepare for the end of the Internet (guess I buried the lede, huh?).
In the current issue of The Atlantic, Gordon M. Goldstein writes that because the U.S. controls so much of how the Internet operates, and because of the recent revelations of N.S.A. spying on foreign countries and their leaders; Europe, Asia, South America, and others are contemplating their own closed systems. This could, in effect, create hundreds of Internets that may or may not be able to communicate with one another.
Goldstein, who was a member of the American delegation to the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications, contends that this “splinternet” scenario could end the dominance of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of other companies that rely on access to users and customers from around the world.
Additionally, without U.S. supervision on domain names, a website in, say, Madagascar could precisely mimic VictoriasSecret.com. So, when you ordered a Heritage Cotton Nightie, your credit card information would be stolen – and you’d never know what happened until three weeks later when you realized that you were still sleeping in your husband’s XXL Tom Brady jersey.
Oh, and this splinternet scenario could happen as soon as 2016.
The U.S. and other major world players might be able to step in and reach an agreement, ceding some U.S. control, but keeping in place the prtocols that make the Internet work. Goldstein, however, is not optimistic.
So, you’ve been warned. Responsive web design is the only option for your business’s digital presence because between now and the end of the Internet as we know it, you need to milk your global customers for all they’re worth.
On the bright side, maybe by 2016, if it hasn’t sold, that Ogunquit waterfront cottage will have been reduced from $3.75 million.