Stranger Danger in Social Media
Tiffany Winman 12000065XB firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  social-media media social dangers ibm
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When I speak at social media events, a common question is, "When has using social media backfired? Or what are some worst case examples you've experienced?"
Different companies (and departments in companies) use social media for different purposes. I'm not a purist who believes in the "true nature, essence, and environment of social media as it was intended." Nor do I complain that people are somehow corrupting this once pristine social media world. I guess this is to be expected since my favorite personalities in rhetorical history are the sophists (though I think they got a bad rap and I prefer Susan Jarratt's view of them in Rereading the Sophists). I also have a very low tolerance of theories based on technological determinism (e.g., Twitter was intended for ....).
Nevertheless, some of the worst examples I've seen of social media are when third-party agencies submit advertising or post forum discussions on behalf of their clients without actually participating or contributing in the community. This is the hit 'em and run approach. Advertising agencies do this because they simply have the objective of driving traffic to their clients' pages or increasing their rank in Google. And it works! If it worked, and I could simply say no harm, no foul, I might leave this tactic alone--even if I disagreed with it. However, I've seen several cases where such tactics actually cause negative repercussions.
IBM is not innocent in this matter. A friend on Twitter once brought to my attention an outpouring of responses to IBM content posted in a community, but no one from IBM was actually in the community or responding to the comments. The lack of response made the community feel like IBM didn't care and led to growing hostility. When I investigated, I found a third-party agency had posted the content on IBM's behalf, and IBM was not even fully aware of the situation. We eventually got some IBMers involved to address some of the questions and invited the people from the community to a feedback session on how we could improve. We learned a few lessons that day.
Folks come to me on a regular basis, asking how they can use social media to drive traffic to their content. Before responding, I always let them know that there are always unforeseen consequences in what they wish for and that, in the social media world, they should always be prepared to follow up any activity with engagement. And the best type of people to post such content in a community are actual experts on the topic who have gained a respected "ethos" or credibility in the community.
We could do things the easy way and get quick results, but at the end of the day, the easy way may not really be so easy.
Side note: That said, I think targeted advertising in social networking environments often makes sense (for example, a video spotlight that comes up in the right column of your LinkedIn page based on your history or profile). I personally appreciate such content. It's not the same as acting like a genuine community participant just to post some content.
Disclaimer: Once again, the opinions expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer.