Oh, the power of social media, those wily tempests of technology and human connections that you can’t live without, that you can’t ignore if you really want your venture to take off.
But while these platforms can make you a huge hit and give you free exposure to gain market traction, they also can break you into a million pieces in just about as fast as the instant it takes for you to post that borderline — and business-crushing — tweet.
Sure, in the world of social media, exposure is a good thing. But the wrong exposure, like the recent errant social media mishap at US Airways, can make you the butt of jokes of all those bloggers, tweeters and posters yearning for something brilliant to contribute and don’t care about distorting your carefully crafted, fine-tuned PR image.
Two recent examples come to mind: US Airways and Stephen Colbert.
The US Airways episode stemmed from a pornographic tweet — we will leave that in the hands of imagination rather than description here — the airline received and accidentally retweeted.
The result: a PR nightmare. Hecklers and well-intentioned commentators leaping at the opportunity to weigh in on the gaffe. A viral phenomenon clipping along at near light speed to every far-flung, remote outpost on the planet, and thousands of publications looking for a fresh angle on the story, including op-eds and, yes, analysis pieces about the corporate pitfalls of bad social media use. All at their expense.
One word: Wow.
You can’t control the deluge once it becomes so-called breaking news.
The airline quickly apologized. But the damage was done – around the world. Even I am writing about it as a cautionary tale for those who want, and need, to use the power of these platforms for good purposes.
And comedians, who are usually granted a little more immunity to speak their minds, are not in the least bit immune to the scorched-earth ways of the social media machine.
Stephen Colbert, the host of the hit Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” fell into this vortex when the folks behind-the-scenes who run the show’s Twitter account posted a joke on Twitter that lacked a lot of context from a previous show.
The skit and subsequent tweet was a satirical response to the owner of the Washington Redskins’ decision to create a foundation called, “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”
Because of the tweet in reference to a fictional foundation he “created,” Mr. Colbert soon became the subject of a trending Twitter topic, #CancelColbert, and was roundly written about by a near infinite number of bloggers as well as being the subject of just as many social media posts. (Nearly one month later, people are still posting their #CancelCobert thoughts.)
Mr. Colbert offered an interesting assessment of social media and how we should perhaps think twice before we post something that may become highly regrettable.
“Who would have thought a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstandings?” he said on his show.
Think of social media as a very large public space, the gathering place of the world, where many ideas, beliefs, views and attitudes are expressed, a vast sea of diversity and varying worldviews in which no view is supreme or followed by all.
That’s not to say to avoid expressing yourself through social media. There is nothing worse for a venture or a business owner to say nothing but coldly calculated, “markety” phrases that will not offend but surely make us go to sleep or, worse, ignore you.
You can be yourself, to some degree. Just do yourself a favor and take a moment to think about what you are saying and how others may react to it. Think before you click.
Run that borderline post by someone else. Get a second set of eyes on it. Ask your coworker, your partner, your second cousin James who is the most sensitive person you know in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania.
Because what you say in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, can now travel across the planet in a millisecond to Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. That can be great for business or promoting yourself since no other platforms really offer that reach.
But, say the wrong thing, and you could be planting your own PR minefield.
As that great world adventurer Indiana Jones was once told by an ancient knight during his quest for the Holy Grail, “You must choose. But choose wisely.”
You must post, but post wisely. If so, you will receive the bounty social media can bestow.
If not, well, we know how that story ends.