Monday, September 28, 2009

Curing Blogorrhea and Other Mysterious Social-Media-Marketing Maladies

Just because you can say anything online, doesn’t mean you should

For me, one of the best things about social media is the ability to learn things from other people.

Because of people’s willingness to share expertise, I have learned a lot from professionals in my field and the industries I cover, as well as from talented amateurs. I hope I return the favor by writing this blog and participating thoughtfully in Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve also learned what NOT to do, by witnessing some mysterious behavior.

Perhaps emboldened by the bits and bandwidth to say as much as they want – and the relative anonymity – some people do say anything. And usually to the detriment of their personal brands and careers.

Here are four examples of mysterious social-marketing maladies, along with my prescriptions for them.

Blogorrhea: An irresistible urge to run off at the mouth on one’s blog without considering the big picture, context or long-term ramifications.

An example: A colleague and talented fellow consultant has a really interesting blog. Recently, she criticized – by name – a prominent public figure from her past, as well as a past employer. She also disclosed what seemed to me like confidential information about the employer. These comments were presented within the context of a thought leadership article that had some valid points. But if I put on my CEO hat, I would have to ask myself: “Would I hire this person as a consultant? What’s to prevent me and my company from ending up as a subject in a future blog post?”

I would also be hesitant to introduce her to any of my clients, for the same reason. Perhaps there was a strategy behind this article, but I remain mystified. I consider client and employer relationships lifelong relationships – even if they end badly. (The bad guys usually will get out-ed, by someone else.) I also take client NDAs very seriously. I don’t blog about the internals of clients’ businesses without their explicit permission.

My Rx: if you must write about clients and employers, anonym-ize what you say. Yes, this is probably not as tantalizing and self-aggrandizing, but it’s safer from a career perspective.

Projectile Preciosity: An assumption that everything about you is interesting to everyone equally.

An example: Babies think everything about them is interesting. Today, many adults apparently do too, and social media sites enable them to share this information ad infinitum. I am appalled by the number of mature professionals (not just college students) who are shooting themselves in the foot by posting inappropriate information on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Most recently, I was shocked to see a former colleague – a great technical marketing professional – use a picture of herself in a bathing suit on her LinkedIn profile. (And she was seeking employment in her field, not in lifeguarding, modeling or adventure travel.)

My Rx: If you are a job-seeking professional, decide on a personal brand strategy that provides the proper context for everything you do and say online. Then stick with it. (There are a lot of great resources about personal branding.) I actually advise a personal-brand strategy for everyone, even my retired mother: your social media footprint is searchable, permanent, and universally available (in spite of social-media sites' policies about privacy and data-sharing). No social media site is an island, and you are what you Tweet and who you Friend even if you protect your updates. (And, yes, my mother took my advice.)

Marketing Misanthropy: Using social media for negative or self-absorbed brand marketing.

An example: On my personal Twitter account, I recently posted a mini-review about a wine from New Zealand that I had tried and liked. Another winemaker (whom I follow) replied to me with a condescending comment about the wine. In about 120 characters, he (1) managed to insult me as a prospective customer (I buy a lot of wine, which should be evident from my Twitter account); and (2) missed an opportunity to introduce me to one of his wines. In fact, looking at his Twitter account, he hardly ever promotes his wines. Clever cool-guy points: 1, Marketing points: -10. Why is his brand on Twitter? If this is a personal Twitter account, why would he link it with his brand?

My Rx: If you are tweeting or blogging on behalf of a brand, remember that you are representing the brand – not yourself. Let your personality shine through, but in an unobtrusive way that strengthens not weakens the brand. Look for “teachable moments,” like the one above. That’s called marketing, and social media gives brands a unique opportunity to create personalized dialogs – with millions of teachable moments. You’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity.

An update
: the winemaker has since protected his Tweets. Probably a good idea: if you can't stand the heat, best to stay in the cave.

Terminal Coolness: Using social media for mindless, distracting and irrelevant self-promotion.

An example: Another colleague has a great blog about marketing writing. He has a regular, ardent follower who regularly replies and re-tweets him on Twitter. But the re-tweets generally consist of: “You, @XXXXX. That’s bad, man” and variations on this theme. The follower’s bio suggests that he is a professional, not a professional rapper or a rapper-wannabe. He doesn’t appear to be a spammer. Perhaps there is some scam here that it isn’t evident – and I am just not smart enough to figure it out. At the risk of sounding undemocratic, he’s a waste of bits.

My Rx: Get some therapy.

Most of the problems above could be solved with mega-doses of three virtual vitamins: Vitamin A (awareness), Vitamin C (context), and Vitamin E (empathy).

Do you know anyone with these maladies? What do you think?


  1. Very good post. I've never known anyone do anything quite this bad, but I certainly know the type. I think the problem is people tend to assume that the positives about them or their brand are already known, then treat SM as an amusing add-on. In other words, they 'converse' as if people already 'know' them, forgetting that their last tweet could be their prospect's first impression.

    Balanced against that, of course, is the need for SM to have *some* individual flavour - and the more flavour you bring, the more danger. Often, the tweets I enjoy most are those where the sender clearly doesn't care what people think.

    I've said some similar things in a less interesting, 'advice' format here:


  2. Tom:

    Thanks for your comment. I like your article about using the right online tone of voice for business. Good, useful advice in a very easy-to-use, digestible format. Keep writing!


  3. This is GREAT! Finally, a productive and useful set of observations, supported by real examples, which say what I've only been able to RANT about myself... Well done. Again.

  4. I agree completely. It's important to have professionalism when posting anything from a business and personal blogs and social media sites. Everything that you write online is linked back to you. Everything that is posted can be found about you at a later time, so it's essential to think before you post and speak your mind.