How social media changes perceptions of brands and people, including the late John Hughes


The following post was written by my Twitter friend, @adamwohl.  A non-blogging copywriter, screenwriter, and willingly helpful social media participant, Adam accepted my offer to post this article here.

By Adam Wohl

A few days ago, I was horrified to hear about the passing of John Hughes.  A gifted storyteller whose grasp of teen angst was unequivocally spot-on and who made kids everywhere who felt out of place aware of the fact that even if we were weirdos, we were actually in the majority and certainly could overcome it.  A day later, I was blessed like so many others to have been allowed to read the blog post of Alison Byrne Fields, a twitter friend of mine kind enough to share her anecdote about her relationship with John.

The ensuing viral attention that her post spawned and the wonderful story it conveyed made me realize how much her experience is transferrable to the world of social media, not just as an example of how something becomes a viral phenomenon, but how the introduction of an idea and the conversations that follow can change the perception of a person, an entity, a brand.

So am I really about to use the passing of a hero (mine too) to illustrate a point about social media?  Yes.  I’m recycling.  And I think there’s something to be learned here; this is a shining example of a tenet of social media.

It’s not deep analysis – quite frankly I’m a bigger fan of the simple and think most are.  So I’ll try to be brief.

Hopefully, you’ve read Alison’s blog post about her pen-pal relationship with John Hughes.  To me, it revealed a new perspective of the great director.  He already had my respect for his body of work, but the blog portrayed a different side; a man who was encouraging of and inspiring to a young writer, and at the same time a man seeking inspiration and acceptance himself.  And it’s my opinion that this different view is what so many people have been drawn to.  Not just the sycophantic desire of people to be in the know and to have access to information that sheds new light on a celebrity, but also a strong desire to hear happy stories about the positive influence we have over one-another, in this time of dread and recession, unemployment, etc.

So, how does this translate to brands and business?  I think the application is best used to convey the power of social media to disbelievers:

Ask yourself this: How did you perceive John Hughes before you read Alison’s post?

Most likely, you saw him as a quality writer and director whose movies you enjoyed more often than not.  That sounds like a brand that makes a quality product.

And now after the post, how do you feel about him?

Maybe you see him as having been a little more caring, more accessible (even if to one fan), more vulnerable, more human.  Now that sounds like a brand that cares about its customers.  A brand that is interested in what they have to say and wants to cater to and develop for its customers, because the brand recognizes that customer loyalty=brand livelihood and survival.

And what happened after this blog post that revealed this newfound humanity? The conversation started.  People shared their thoughts about Alison’s post and this new perception of John.  Twitter went mad.  Trending topic.  Conversations started about what an incredible guy John was to befriend and encourage this young girl.  It spread like wildfire.

Disbelievers, I can hear you.  “It’s just Twitter.  Adam, you’re in a vacuum.  It’s your small circle of friends talking about this.”

Maybe that’s how it started, but then it jumped to Facebook.  And MySpace.

Then the Wall Street Journal did a feature. And the L.A. Times. And People Magazine, and the Washington Post and Gawker and NPR and…well, you get the idea.

I honestly believe those who have read Alison’s story will never think of John the same way again.  That’s a change (unintentional, in this case, I know) in brand image.

Sure it’s a big dose of apples and oranges here.  And the last thing I intended to do by writing this post is trivialize the death of an artist.  But I still think there is much to glean from this story, and hey — before John ever made it as a screenwriter or director, he was an advertising copywriter in Chicago, responsible for the Edge shaving cream ‘credit card-scraping of the cheek’ campaign.

The lessons:

never underestimate the power of a customer’s perception of a brand,

never underestimate the power of customer to customer conversations,

and most importantly, never underestimate the ability to change the perception of a brand by starting conversations with and among customers using social media.

These conversations are inevitable, and yes — it cuts both ways; if a brand’s product or service takes a piss, people are going to talk about it.  And I’m not saying brands should rig the game by planting conversations or swaying discussions by asking questions like, “What was the best experience you had with brand X? “ Further, brands will NEVER be able to keep a grasp on everything that’s said about them.  But not taking the initiative to contain, moderate or focus the discussion is a mistake that in time will not only be measurable by Google analytics, but also by the cash register.

Speaking of money, I’d like to pass along the same links Alison posted in her follow-up blog post.  If you were as touched by John Hughes’ passing as I was and feel like he provided you with plenty of hours of joy and laughter, do something about it. Make a donation of money or time to:

826 National – an organization that works with young people (ages 6-18) and teachers to encourage writing.

The American Heart Association

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Amy Flanagan
Amy Flanagan

Great post. Simple, honest and true, just like every movie Hughes made. I agree with you 100%.
A huge fan, I always felt that John Hughes was right beside me through the beautiful teenage triumphs and traumas. (After all, how could I worry about hair that shined a silvery nuclear waste glow from too many hours swimming laps when the oh-so-cool wrestlers were wearing tights?) It was wonderful that Alison's post gave us a more personal look at Mr.Hughes - and it turned out he was EXACTLY the person we all dreamed him to be. Caring. Honest. Filled with integrity.
On top of that, how great was it that Alison's follow-up post showed that she went above and beyond to hold the same virtues?
I think there were two unintended social media success stories here. Of course, as you stated, this was not the desired intention of either. However, I am glad they both took the time to reach out years ago so that I got a chance to know the two of them a little better today.
Your post gave new dimension to the importance of the conversation.
.-= Amy Flanagan´s last blog ..I know a few adults who actually like Where's Waldo. =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Saw many of his films, but as part of a generation that felt like an observer rather than participant. So I am both moved by Alison's post and the lesson's it has for human contact in its' form (pen pal) and again by what you refer to the power of social media. For me, a lot of this stuff is about a need to know, stay up to date, not miss out on the conversation, but perhaps most importantly, to connect with others who might actually matter. Thanks for sharing here.