Is Social Media Creating a ‘No Mistakes Allowed’ Zone for Companies

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An interesting post went up recently on Lauren Fernandez’s blog, “LAF.” In it, she and Kasey Skala (@kmskala) discussed their issues with a recent PRSA blog post that went up about millennials handling social media for companies.

The very valid and well-thought out points that Lauren and Kasey made about why it’s so important—no matter what age you are, or what generation you fit into—that every company that engages in social media have a viable, well-thought out and comprehensive social media plan got me thinking about the reality of social media in a 24/7 business climate:soHad to try flooding projector for the hashtag #dubaitwestival! ;0

Is social media creating a “no-mistakes allowed” online landscape for businesses and brands?

As social media continues to dominate our lives, with upwards of 51% of US adults now engaged in some type of social network, and the ability of the Internet to literally categorize and record EVERYTHING that is placed online—every conversation, every tweet, every document—have we actually created for ourselves a business landscape where no mistakes are allowed? In other words, can we actually afford to publicly experiment anymore in business endeavors, or are we forever doomed to realizing that any mistake, any little mess up, will follow our brand online for literally the life of our company?

I’m curious to what you all think; I have my own idea about this (and if you really want to read that now, just check out my comments to Lauren’s post here), but I would love to get even more intelligent insight from the comments and conversations below.

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  • http://twitter.com/jillbateman Jill Bateman

    I don't think so. I think social media is setting up a “do your damn job” landscape. Being bold and experimental and cutting edge — even if you fail scores you points.

  • http://twitter.com/KeithTrivitt Keith Trivitt

    Jill. Thanks for the comment. You make a really good point: In a time when so many businesses are overly cautious due to incredible financial pressures, a little boldness and a willingness to take some risk, particularly with their online presence (which, let's be honest, should be one of the top priorities of almost every business now), could go a very long way to generating both short- and long-term success. I just hope that we in the social media landscape ALLOW businesses to have some of those experiments and to try out new ideas and initiatives –publicly — even if things don't go quite as well as planned. As long as their is a good strategy, plan and goals for these initiatives, I'm all for businesses trying out new ideas in a very public way online.

  • http://twitter.com/craigritchie Craig Ritchie

    It is if your brand isn't opening up to customers and fans, being transparent and authentic. If insiders — management and social voices for the company — are including consumers in their processes, actions, decisions and rewarding them along the way, when mistakes happen, there is lots of room for forgiveness. In fact, if the community is strong, these consumers feel a part of the mistake, and look to help correct it.

    I blogged about brands getting inspired to be open and transparent here: http://www.craigritchie.com/2009/09/transparenc

  • http://twitter.com/KeithTrivitt Keith Trivitt

    Craig. Thanks for your note and some really insightful points. I think you hit the nail right on the head with this: “In fact, if the community is strong, these consumers feel a part of the mistake, and look to help correct it.”

    My devil's advocate counterargument (sorry, have to do this, even though I agree with you :) is this: Are we allowing businesses to actually even CREATE solid social media presence and engagement process with customers, stakeholders and their audiences? Or, are we jumping down their backs at the first lackluster tweet or blog post? Then again, I would counter that a lot of that comes from the fact that many businesses don't invest the time, resources or strategy to properly listen to their audience(s), what they want and where/how they are engaging online, and instead, just jump in like an over-eager 5-year-old, with wide eyes and gumption, but no plan of what to do if/when something goes wrong.

    Great stuff, Craig. Thanks for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    There's nothing wrong about the new landscape reminding us all to be careful and smart about how we interact with people. In the past, sloppiness could be easily forgotten, but I like that now everything is more transparent. We can all learn to forgive mistakes, but we can't all learn to do the right thing without a little push from The Great Rememberer.

  • http://twitter.com/KeithTrivitt Keith Trivitt

    Love that line, TJ: “But we can't all learn to do the right thing without a little push from The Great Rememberer.” And that was exactly my point: businesses need to be very cautious moving forward (and have a detailed and well-thought-out strategy/plan) with their social media efforts, especially as more people in all sectors and audiences join the SM fray. EVERYTHING you do, say and post will be forever available for reading, viewing and critiquing in “The Great Remember” as you so aptly put it. Thanks for the comment!

  • laneyc

    I think the best plans are the ones that are listening first and then acting. My guess, is there are company reprsentatives out there listening and learning so they can report back to their teams. It's just another form of market research and if they play their cards right, consumers wont be angry they will be relieved that the company cares enough to actually connect and engage in the way they want. Like you said Keith its all about the investment. But the investment could come after they mess up. It doesnt have to be right away.

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  • brabinger

    I don’t want to quibble, because I agree with your point that businesses should have a well thought-out SM media strategy, but I don’t necessarily agree that because what a company does online goes on their ‘permanent record’, it means they should be “very cautious moving forward.”

    What one does online may be forever, but permanence doesn't necessarily equate to importance. In the bigger picture, the impact of most SM blunders are likely to be modest and short-term. Learning from them will yield long-term benefits.

    No company’s social media strategy and implementation will be perfect. Being ‘very cautious’ will simply slow you down in finding out where its flaws are.

    I think it’s much more important to make sure one’s strategy is designed to anticipate failures/glitches and develop mechanisms to learn from them. I like what Clay Shirkey says on this: “Fail informatively – Fail like crazy.”

  • keithtrivitt

    Hi Eric – Thanks for the comment. You make some really interesting points. While I don't necessarily agree with you that the impact of most SM blunders is likely to be modest and short-term (I think we need to start viewing SM as part of a businesses' ENTIRE communications and customer engagement plan, and like any other initiative, most mistakes for public-facing businesses usually have a mix of both short- and long-term consequences), I do see your point that it's highly important for companies to ensure that their SM strategy/plan is designed to anticipate any failures that may arise. And let's be honest, for many companies, some minor (or major) glitch will arise with its SM plan. But that also leads back to the whole point of my post: Are we even allowing brands to have these mistakes anymore? Or has the immediacy of the Internet created a climate where brands aren't even allowed to “fail informatively – fail like crazy” anymore? I don't know.

    I think a better for “very cautious” would be along the lines of how you stated your point, that it's not so much about being cautious, but it's much more about anticipating and planning for how to deal with those inevitable glitches that will arise. Now, however, the challenge is dealing with them in a landscape that may (or may not be) as tolerant to mistakes that arise from online engagement experiments/plans.

  • keithtrivitt

    Hi Eric – Thanks for the comment. You make some really interesting points. While I don't necessarily agree with you that the impact of most SM blunders is likely to be modest and short-term (I think we need to start viewing SM as part of a businesses' ENTIRE communications and customer engagement plan, and like any other initiative, most mistakes for public-facing businesses usually have a mix of both short- and long-term consequences), I do see your point that it's highly important for companies to ensure that their SM strategy/plan is designed to anticipate any failures that may arise. And let's be honest, for many companies, some minor (or major) glitch will arise with its SM plan. But that also leads back to the whole point of my post: Are we even allowing brands to have these mistakes anymore? Or has the immediacy of the Internet created a climate where brands aren't even allowed to “fail informatively – fail like crazy” anymore? I don't know.

    I think a better for “very cautious” would be along the lines of how you stated your point, that it's not so much about being cautious, but it's much more about anticipating and planning for how to deal with those inevitable glitches that will arise. Now, however, the challenge is dealing with them in a landscape that may (or may not be) as tolerant to mistakes that arise from online engagement experiments/plans.