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04/23/2010 Social Strategy: Plan a Catastrophe

While more and more brands embrace social media as part of their marketing or operational strategy, many of them do so with great fear in their hearts. They craft social policies aimed less at behavioral guidance and more toward legal safeguards. While most marketers understand the need to participate and connect with people in this free-flowing arena, it goes against what most have them have learned about marketing over the years.

Thus the fear. In certain businesses, you can feel the fear from the marketing director right on up through the C-Level suite. Almost all of the fear is about losing control of the message and the conversation. People delve into social media with the fear that they'll meet overwhelming negativity and won't no how to handle it.

You can't blame them. When you read the news, a lot of the social media talk is about catastrophe. Nestle's debacle on Facebook, Domino's land mine on YouTube, Motrin miscalculation with Twitter; we accept the plethora of negative stories while we discount positive stories as exceptions.

If fear is part of the social media mix for most companies, why not embrace it? Instead of sitting around worrying for disaster to strike, why not plan one? Rather than creating a social media strategy still based on broadcasting information and responding if anyone notices, how about building conflict into your plan and directing your resources to respond to it? I know many businesses living with the fear, but I don't know of anyone who's leaning into the fear and disarming it.

The social media fear reminded me of something I saw in Sweden, when I was living there. The Swedes planned a catastrophe to happen on a huge, live TV broadcast in front of 300 million people.  In 1984 the Swedish Herrey brothers won the Eurovision contest with the pop tune "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley." It was the first time Sweden won since Abba's "Waterloo." It was a big deal.

For Sweden, the biggest deal was that they got to host the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest, broadcast live to Europe and the rest of the world, in Gothenburg. Sweden chose performer Lil Lindfors to host the show. After the first intermission, Lil walked out on stage, her skirt caught on some staging and fell off. We watched in horror as she stood, live, in her panties and we thought "Unbelievable!" Then Lil unsnapped two buttons on her shoulders and a full-length dress covered her up.

Afterward she explained that when they were planning the show, they sat around discussing the worst thing that could happen. They agreed that a huge wardrobe malfunction would be a disaster. So instead of worrying about it, they built it right into the show. Disaster solved.

Brands in social media would do well to think about this. If you're afraid of what might happen, build it into your plan instead of waiting for it to happen. Once you're on social media with a following, consider:

  • Product/Service complaints - If people complain about your product or service, think about directing some of the complainer to Twitter or Facebook. Ask if anyone else is experiencing the problem. Solve the problem in spades, in front of everyone. You address the fear of product negativity with a plan to solve it.
  • Labor/Employee disputes - Rather than shutting them down, how about inviting some of this discussion to your social media stream? You might no solve all of the problems, but you could use the engagement to strengthen employee ties to your brand in a public place. It meets the fear of the out-of-control employee hijacking your social media.
  • Environmental/Operational practices - Rather than hoping these will never come out, make sure they show up and address them head on. Even if you can only show that you're listening and making progress, it will show you that you're not a Brand Ostrich.

I'm sure there each business has disasters and catastrophes specific to them that can cause veteran marketers and C-Levels to wake up sweating in the middle of the night at the thought of these becoming fodder on social media. Rather than hoping for the best, why not plan for them so you know what to do and have people ready to act?

Remember, if you see a bomb or grenade lying on the ground, it's better to explode it in a controlled manner than have it go off when you're not ready.  That might be your best strategy if fear of social media ends up driving a lot of your decision making.


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