Social media and responsibility

This is a lesson in social media, the danger of speaking without thinking, and the different ways in which content can get interpreted. (It might also be a lesson about good and bad advertising, but that’s secondary.) I share the story below in hopes that people might learn something. I know that I have.

Sunday afternoon, caught up in the brilliant performance of John Lackey who was pitching a shutout for the Boston Red Sox, I found myself annoyed by Eastern Bank’s frequent, half-second-long, transitional logo blasts. Without really thinking, I posted the following tweet: “ I am closing all accounts at Eastern Bank. Most annoying ad buy in history of sports on NESN Red Sox coverage.”

There are just two problems with this. One, I don’t have any accounts at Eastern Bank. And two, “in the history of sports,” is a pretty sweeping generalization. Hard, if not impossible, to back that one up. In my defense, I was attempting to make a point, throw in some drama, and see if anyone else out there felt the same way. I assumed that most people online aren’t totally literal — see this smart Tech Crunch piece — but I guess I could be found guilty of confusing hyperbole with irony.

Oh, and there’s one more little thing. Eastern Bank used to be a client of Mullen. I harbor no ill feelings of any kind regarding them or the relationship, but in retrospect that should have been disclosed.

Moments later I had second thoughts about my tweet, but as we all know seconds is a long time in an era of instant access and the web. I deleted it, but not before the cat was out of the bag and someone paying attention had sent it off to the marketing department at Eastern.

Yesterday, an executive from the bank sent me an email requesting we talk more about it. I have to give kudos to the bank for both paying attention and for reaching out. Shows they are tuned into the social conversation. I responded with a variation of the above, admitting my haste and arguable faux pas. But never one to hold back, I also suggested the following:

My personal advice would be to find a different way to present your logo and brand to viewers that is more inviting. In a fragmented media world and an era where attention is the new scarcity advertisers may have to take every opportunity to get their brand out there.  However, in an age of social media when consumers have the power to opt into or out of a brand’s messages, advertisers also have a responsibility not to annoy. At times it’s a fine line, but if you err on the side of delight rather than harsh interruption you will win out in the long term.

These are trying times for advertisers. On one hand, the media landscape makes it essential that brands be present in as many different places as they possibly can. Compound that with an increasing scarcity of attention and advertisers have little choice but to find new ways to get those messages in front of us, if only for a second or two.

On the other hand, we live in an age of social media. It’s never been easier for consumers and viewers to pipe up, voice their opinion (positive or negative) and even take over the conversation. That means advertisers need both the good sense, if not the actual responsibility, to bring joy and delight to readers and watchers and not simply present self-serving messages that interrupt us.

However, this miniature case study also serves as a reminder that those of us taking advantage of our new-found powers and digital microphones should to use them more judiciously. I plan on trying to do a better of job of that in the future.

So what do you think? Are we entitled to shoot our mouths off? Should advertisers be held accountable for annoying work?  Are we both in the wrong?

 

 

25 comments
chrbutler
chrbutler

Edward,

I'm with you on the danger point. I was just thinking about this recently as I was working through some content of my own and thought, there's a huge difference between what we say when we're trying to get attention and what we say when we have it.

So, to answer your questions, I definitely think there are limits, both in terms of ethics and taste, to what we should say when we're trying to get attention. Since the social media realm can seem like chaotic shouting from the outside, I can understand why one might feel driven to just try to shout a little louder. Or, say something inflammatory enough to quiet everyone else momentarily. As you point out, that's not exactly a winning strategy.

On the other hand, once we have earned the attention of others, new factors come in to play. For instance, what are our new duties to ethics and taste? I'm impressed by the way you handled the Eastern Bank situation--you're right that the Tweet wasn't the most ethical or tasteful, especially since you weren't an account holder. But you made good on your commitment to both ethics and taste by deleting, admitting, recanting, and recapping with this post. Eastern Bank, on the other hand--what is their duty to ethics and taste, particularly when purchasing the opportunity to get attention? It's a bigger question than I am able to answer, but I think, certainly, both consumers and advertisers are accountable to ethics and taste, regardless of whether they're vying for attention or already have it.

- Chris

MichaelDurwin
MichaelDurwin

If you use your Twitter account as a channel for purely professional expression it might not be a good idea to slam a former or potential future client.

If you use it for purely personal (or a mix), I think it's acceptable to be able to express your self on anything you like. Though I'm sure we don't agree on that point.

As for expressing any negative feedback toward Eastern Bank: the squeaky wheel gets the grease (and perhaps a new account) but feedback, both negative and positive can help a brand or person learn where gone wrong or done right. Luckily they were listening (and hopefully their current agency or media buyer was listening) and will take your comments into consideration.

They just received valuable feedback on their media buy. Hopefully they'll put that in the ROI column of their social media budget.

kaitlinmaud
kaitlinmaud

Rather than both being in the wrong, I think you both did what could be expected of you.Eastern Bank: did crappy advertising. A lot of brands do.

Edward: responded with annoyance. Most of us do.Twitter: served as a medium to vent that frustration. It usually does.Twitter user: brought Eastern Bank to the attention of your tweet. The Twitter community does a pretty amazing job of policing themselves like that.

Eastern Bank: responded to you with some good ol' customer service. As they should.Edward: responded, humbly, with his thoughts. He kind of owed them that.All in all, it seems to me like a prime example of the state of social media. One of the things I've been telling my clients recently is that customers will generally provide feedback in one of three instances: If they had a really positive experience with your brand, if they had a really negative experience with your brand, and if they have a question about your brand. The only thing that's changed about this since 10 years ago is that the medium and volume with which they're providing feedback has changed.

davidmeermanscott
davidmeermanscott

Hey Edward - I think it was an error to say you were closing your accounts when you didn't have business with Eastern Bank. Honesty and integrity is key in my opinion. But good on you for admitting it.

I don't see any issues with saying what you think on Twitter or with using creative license "in the history of sports" is fine by me because it was what you were feeling at the time.

commoncents
commoncents

~~So what do you think? Are we entitled to shoot our mouths off? Should advertisers be held accountable for annoying work? Are we both in the wrong?~~

1. I do think we are entitled to shoot our mouths off......with limits on content.

2. Advertisers will always come up with annoying placements of their work. How can anyone hold the billions of signs and billboards that I find annoying accountable? Isn't bad or annoying advertising self-limiting? Won't it go away on it's own if it isn't productive?

3. No, you are not Both in the wrong. The Eastern Bank had the right to transitional logo blasts.

The 'buttons' on people and on our gadgets are far to easy to push. I've done it and have absolutely no defense. I know better and I apologize for being indignant.

esrati
esrati

I commend you for owning up that you aren't a customer.

And, I think we give too much weight to social media faux pas- the whole point of social media is that it can't be censored. That's supposedly what makes it real.

Obnoxious ads are failures. The company needed to know.

However, I'm conflicted- Howard Gossage hated billboards- thought they were visual pollution- but, then again, I smile every time I remember the full sized mini on the wall- strung up between two telephone pole stubs with a long rope strung between them and the rear of the Mini- to look like a slingshot- and the words "Goliath lost"

It's our job to make the world more interesting, fun, enjoyable- while selling stuff.

When we resort to annoying customers- it's time to get out of the business.

cycle_loft
cycle_loft

I think it's a fine line, Edward for sure. As a retailer in a niche industry, I find myself being very cautious as to what I say in print for fear of that "flame" email or post [somewhere] that one knows could happen. We have probably all pushed the "send" button one fraction of a second sooner than we have wanted to, at least once, since we started this online/electronic instantaneous media thingy. What to do? Keep quiet and not say one's peace, or say it in a manner that the intended recipient can actually "listen." That's the quandary...

dweingrod
dweingrod

Fair play to you for your admission and bringing this issue up in the first place. I think it was wrong to misrepresent yourself as an Eastern customer, but certainly the right thing to bring up your annoyance and disappointment even if they had been a client. On the other hand it would have been interesting to see if they would have responded without the threat of losing a customer. In this case, considering the amount of followers you have, one would hope that they would have reached out.

Are we right in using our digital bullhorns to criticize advertising and marketing? Absolutely. We now have this power to to broadcast our opinion and should employ it. You have to admit though, that criticizing an annoying media buy is sort of a first world problem to have. We are lucky to be living in an environment of media and information abundance that gives us huge opportunities to present our opinions and feelings through a huge range of tools. Its when you consider what's being accomplished in the Middle East, an environment of media scarcity, using the most primitive of digital bullhorns, that we can really get a sense of the real power and potential we've gotten a hold of.

I think that we need a social media mulligan counter out there so we can take back all the ill thought out tweets we've all sent out. At least the first three. And even for Kenneth Cole.

ScottDoniger
ScottDoniger

in an age where everyone carries a digital bullhorn in their pockets, brands who do not think through how they market risk pushing perfectly rational people to scream and shout. that we are in the business of helping brands figure this out doesn't mean we can't ourselves be pushed over the edge. we've all been there -- directv's triple play offer wasa blatant lie on pricing and options, switched back to comcast.

ernieschenck
ernieschenck

I'm guilty of having a quick digital trigger finger myself. And it's come back to bite me in the ass. I now have a rule. I give myself at least an hour cool-off period. If I still feel like I've got to sink my fangs into somebody, I do. Usually, I don't. Having that little bit of breathing room can be a pretty effective test of your true emotions. That said, two things: 1. It's social media. Its supposed to be intuitive and reactionary. 2. I mean, come on, Edward. It was clearly a joke. I'm pretty surprised that Eastern would react as if it were otherwise. Dont get me wrong. I commend them for responding. But any rational person would see that this wasn't meant to be sincere feedback.

mitchblum
mitchblum

You did them a favor by speaking the truth and giving them some solid advice for free.

You did yourself a favor by reflecting upon your actions and considering the unintended consequences of your influence.

The only losers in this equation are the NESN viewers. And the Angels.

Erin_Hathaway
Erin_Hathaway

This is a great post, thank you! I think voicing an opinion about another brand/company is what many people use social media for and is very valuable to those that are paying attention. If the company that is referenced turns something around because of what they hear then it benefits everyone. I don't see an issue with posting an opinion. Yes there are risks that need to always be considered, but if you have a legitimate concern than voice away! I am impressed to hear that Eastern Bank responded so kudos to them for being tuned in and hopefully they can use the feedback to their benefit.

noyesjesse
noyesjesse

Great post, Edward. I agree that not having an account and having a previous client-agency relationship with Eatern Bank should have caused some pause. I often think about these same things when I am tweeting. Working for a SaaS company means hundreds of clients and I don't want anything I write to be perceived as a conflict of interest.

While it's true that social media means it's nearly impossible to take anything back, it also makes us possible to clarify our position and get an apology out fast, which you do well here. I agree that we can hold advertisers accountable for being annoying. I think it's just in the way we do it. A tweet is one legitimate way to do so. Still, even with the advent of social media, I still think the old rules of not doing business with an annoying advertiser is still the ultimate form of retribution.

Jesse

benkunz
benkunz

You should be commended for pointing out an issue advertisers rarely think about -- the *adverse impact* of an ad on people annoyed by it. We marketers often focus solely on response and awareness (among a fraction of the audience exposed) and don't consider the ire we may raise on everyone else.

I once risked offending Starbucks by blogging that their continuance of charging fees for Wi-Fi was a dumbass idea. Risky move. A few months later, Starbucks began giving Wi-Fi away for free. I doubt I changed their course, but without such feedback, Starbucks may have continued to miss a new competitive requirement.

As a leader in advertising, Edward, it's nice to see you taking a risk.

Go Sox.

armano
armano

Hey, you're human and it's understandable. Personally I try to avoid slamming a business unless as a customer I have a really legitimate beef and have been ignored otherwise. But as a rule of thumb, fact is that since we are visible and work in professional services. Yes, we have to be EXTRA careful.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@MichaelDurwin We actually do agree. I think that A. this is not reportage, but one person's opinion, sometimes expressed professionally, sometimes socially. B. I don't think that Eastern should over-react; in fact I'm the one who backed off his initial comment, or the public nature of it and questioned my own judgement. C. At the same time Eastern was smart to be paying attention and could have been the object of a wider backlash, i.e. the Gap. However, not being a passion brand or in a category that anyone really cares about, that's unlikely to happen. All of which makes this somewhat of a theoretical exercise, but one worth the conversation anyway.

kaitlinmaud
kaitlinmaud

Also, to add on to my own point, Edward- I don't think you have any extra responsibility because you are "influential" on Twitter. You are still a consumer. You should share what you want to share. Whether or not you actually have accounts with Eastern wasn't the point you were making and I think you got your point across no matter which way you said it. When it comes to talking about my day at work or my clients I certainly use some censorship, but for my experiences out in the "real world" as a consumer? I'll let you know if I'm REALLY happy, REALLY angry, or REALLY confused- like any other consumer.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@ernieschenck Agree, but still some guilt eeked in. Wasn't trying to do any reputation damage (and not sure that I did) but apparently it's like that one letter that some customer writes to the president and the next thing you know....

admanekim
admanekim

@ernieschenck I also have a quick digital trigger finger - to which Comcast, @boloco, @sabra and a number of other brands have fallen victim (I'm sorry).

But I agree with Ernie - It's great that Eastern was reactionary and ready to jump in the conversation, but there has to be a balance even for the marketer. If we were to try to fix every ailment reported about our brands out there on Twitter, when are we going to find time to have real, meaningful conversations?

Edward, cheers for owning up. And cheers for handing out free consultation.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Erin_Hathaway While this may or may not be a rumor, I've more recently heard that they may pull this part of the ad campaign. So it's not all bad. And I'm not sure they would do that (if they do it) unless they had some doubts about it already. If they truly believed in it and had conviction, they'd proceeds as planned.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@noyesjesse What's interesting is that we see things from narrow perspectives. My initial view was that the ads were annoying. Eastern's view was that I mis-represented a relationship with the bank. We both focused on just one half of the story. Another lesson perhaps.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@benkunz Like I said, two lessons. One for Eastern, one for me. Hoping everyone learns something.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@armano You are right, though in a way, it's sometimes sad that we always need to keep on our professional hats on. Be fun to take them off once in a while.

lala34mc
lala34mc

@kaitlinmaud I agree with most of your response, Kaitlin, except for where you state that people who are influencers don't have an extra responsibility. Yes, he is still a consumer, but he also has a sphere of influence much greater than the average consumer. It's a grey area for sure, but I think that's akin to saying celebrities, media, politicians don't have extra responsibility when communicating. They do.

noyesjesse
noyesjesse

Very true. We can suffer from social media myopia when we don't consider the impact of our comments, tweets and blog posts. That's not to say we should shrink away from calling a spade a spade. But we need to consider whether what we're saying is accurate, fair and worth anyone's time to read -- even a 140 characters of time. @edwardboches