Doug Haslam

Gischeleman: "To Create With the Mind"

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Platform Shaming – No, It’s Not Twitter’s Fault

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Photo Credit: Chris Vreeland on Flickr

In the marketing, PR and communications field, we (well, the smart ones at least) take great care to remember that what we do – and what happens – both good and bad, is rarely if ever the fault of the communications platform. Generally, the culprit our hero is sound communications strategy supported by a legitimately good product or service.

Just the past week we have had online blowups regarding Bill Cosby, Uber and the NFL’s New England Patriots. Not that people are widely blaming these gaffes on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media platforms, but often enough that is the knee-jerk reaction. As parent of a teenager, I am attuned to hearing other parents worry (often preemptively) about social media being to blame for bad things that could happen, when experience tells us that bad (and good) things have happened well before social media, and will still occur in their banned absence.

So why do we blame Twitter or other platforms when things blow up? I have a few theories.

  • People are lazy

Why examine the real reasons for a PR disaster – a bad product, an out-of-control executive, a just-plain-rotten idea – when we can blame Twitter or Facebook for the bad reactions? That’s easier, and if it makes people feel better about themselves…wait, that’s a bad thing. Fix the real problems and social media will be nice to you. The Gap logo flap a couple of years didn’t happen because of social media; it happened because people hated the logo. Social media may even have helped speed up their course correction.

  • We want the Magic Pixie Dust of social media to be real

Social media is a great part of any communications tool set- but strategy drives it, not the other way around. That said, this Saturday Night Live Sketch made me laugh:

  • Old-school ink-stained wretches just can’t seem to get those mom’s-basement-dwelling-bloggy-people off their damn lawn.

This is my favorite, and seems to be more prevalent with sports columnists than anyone else (at least here in Boston). The idea that the old-school daily paper sports columnists automatically have more knowledge, experience and gravitas is bunkum; for among the legions of idiot typing away in his Cheeto’s-encrusted underwear, there are a few future media-mogul idiots. Most columnists do have that over most amateur bloggers, but the curt dismissal I see constantly is short-sighted and undignified. Another symptom is more in sync with the initial premise of this post- it’s easy to blame Twitter et al rather than the real cause of the problem, such as in this column shaming Twitter for the Patriots’ accidental endorsement of a hate speech-bemonikered Twitter account. That article, to bury the lead, is the inspiration for this post in the first place. Traditional media won’t get far by misunderstanding the newer channels.

Don’t  be lazy, and when it comes to solving PR and communications problems, don’t fight the wrong enemy.

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Kim Kardashian Gives Better Social Media Advice Than You Do*

3776887321_7772630e5b_oOne of the funnest spectator sports in social media marketing is tearing apart the advice of others. Add to that the constant hand-wringing over whether conference presenters should give “101” talks or “advanced” seminars brings the whole thing to the brink of becoming a spectator sport. Well, what if someone outside the marketing bubble gives advice, and some silly web site gives it some editorial space? That’s just wrong, isn’t it? How dare they! Let’s tear it down!

Over the last week or so, I saw an article on ReCode titled “Five Social Media Tips From Kim Kardashian West.” It’s easy to make fun of that; after all, what’s not to laugh at when a Kardashian is trying to give advice to people? Actually reading the article, however, I found that most of her advice was common sense, and worth adopting – seriously. Here is my reasoning:

  • She is talking about using social media the way you or I might use it: Her last tip, “Don’t be weird and post more than three pictures from location,” is actually pretty sound for everyday users – and if people (God forbid) have a habit of doing Kardashian West’s bidding, there might be a little lower volume of annoying oversharing on social media. Yes, I said Kim Kardashian West could conceivably help slow the stupidization of the Internet.
  • The advice is terribly basic — But it’s not basically terrible. “I use Twitter as my Google” sounds like one of the tragically idiotic buzz-phrases you might see in any Social Media book, but on the other hand, think about how you use Twitter. I did, and I do use Twitter search frequently when looking for discussion and links to current events. It doesn’t replace Google, but Twitter works better this way than as a conversation platform these days; it’s easy to get behind the meaning of that tip.
  • It’s counter-intuitive not to make fun, so I’m on board: Being dismissive of vacuous celebutantes is overdone. Considering the (almost-complete) lack of bad advice, I think I’ll take all my advice from such famous people from now on. It’s much easier to follow, with success, than most “what time of day to Tweet” posts. And it’s much cheaper than buying a stack of glorified monitor supports from Amazon.com.
  • This is not “Five Social Media Lessons from (Today’s News Story That is Irrelevant to Social Media)”: The article is just personal tips from one person. It is far less despicable than “Five Social Media Lessons from the Ebola Panic” or other offensive desperate attempts at “newsjacking.”
  • Caveat: I can’t defend the Blackberry shout-out – I assume that was a paid endorsement. God bless ‘em.

This is an admittedly long way to go to make one simple point: sometimes the insipid make sense, while it is just as easy for industry professionals to recycle marginally helpful – or even flat-out wrong – advice. It is up to you to know the difference. So, yes, Kim Kardashian West gives better social media advice than you do.* Plus, if you really want to make fun of her and her ilk, I guarantee there will be plenty of other opportunities.

Viva Kardashian.

*Actually, no disclaimer here. She really does. I mean it. Step up your game, gurus. 

Image Credit: jen collins on Flickr

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Who Killed Scott Monty?

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Image by coltera on Flickr

Last week, Scott Monty, a friend I have known dating back to his Boston days, announced he was leaving his position at Ford Motors, where he ran digital communications, i.e. social media (or at least including social media).

The reaction? Well, Scott is popular and well-known in the social media community, and had a visible role in one of the world’s most famous companies, so I guess you could say people noticed. What was ridiculous, however, was the hand-wringing over what it meant for social media in corporations. Surely, it must be dead, as professionals with high-profiles have left Dell (Richard Binhammer) and Comcast (Frank Eliason) over the last year or two. Three makes a trend, right? One of the more picked-over posts has been Shel Israel’s “Will Big Brands Kill Social Media?

What nonsense. First off, we don’t know why Scott left Ford until he says so (as I write he has not announced what he is doing next, or if he even knows). What we do know is that he was at Ford for six years. In an industry where three years in one job is an eternity, Scott may have been growing moss at his feet, being in one place so long. It is natural to look for a new challenge if the current challenges have been exhausted, no matter how much we think landing a dream job will be the “forever job” where we grow and retire after many decades of service. Again, I don’t know why Scott left, but he stayed a lot longer than what is surely the industry average.

The idea that high profile people leaving their positions means the death of social media? Again, complete nonsense. See the landscape clearly, and you will note that the Fords, Dells and Comcasts of the world adopted social, at least to some scale, early. Other companies have too. But many others have not, or adopted much later. Perhaps these early adopters have reached a certain maturity stage where they change how they organize around social. Maybe not. But if we take Scott Monty’s example and add a rash assumption that there is change in Ford’s program, then companies starting now won’t get around to this “change” until 2020. I admit it’s ridiculous to apply that hard number to all companies, but that’s the point; there is still plenty of opportunity for strategists and tacticians to get their hands dirty helping companies navigate social media, content marketing, brand publishing, or whatever buzzword gains momentum between now and then.

There is a fine line between discussion and overreaction. I prefer to see a bigger picture.

P.S. Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson of the For immediate Release Podcast did an interview with Scott on the topic here.

 

 

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The Social Media Backlash is Here

Well, it finally happened.

Almost a decade of hubris by a new wave of marketers telling that social media was the be-all and end-all, and declaring advertising “dead” has finally turned.

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Photo by Retis on Flickr

First, we have Bob Hoffman’s Advertising Week Europe speech, “The Golden Age of Bullshit” in which he defends the still-quite-alive-thank-you-very-much advertising industry from the slings and nerf-tipped arrows of “engagement” and “brand relationships” crowd.

Ok, fine.

Calling advertising dead was always over the top, and poking the bear inevitably results in a mauling. Hoffman followed up, unrepentantly, with a thoughtful blog post that yet continues his mockery of the self-appointed social media elite.

Ok, fine.

From within the comfortable confines of Social Media Marketing, I have always cast a cynical eye to what many of us referred to the “snake oil” of social: the over-reliance of engagement over results; the emphasis of soft results over hard numbers; the circling of the wagons-of-peers over the service of business goals.

But here’s the thing: that’s not the entirety of social media marketing. While he acknowledges that not all social media marketers are full of it, I do have the distinct  feeling that Hoffman has found a fun new axe to swing; he is going to use the fact that he is largely right as an excuse to beat social media into the ground in favor of King Ad, with a resulting swing of the pendulum all the way back until Madge is soaking in it up to her neck.

In the meantime, social media marketers have found religion; we are seeing multiple blog posts decrying the social media imperatives that brands need to engage as humans, that people want to be Facebook pals with corporations, all as if this were a new idea.

The latest I noticed is Jason Falls’ post, “An Apology to Brands on Behalf of Social Media Experts Everywhere.” In it, Jason (who I know and like from the Social Media blogging and conference circuit), lays out the crime that social media marketers have been committing against brands since the beginning: that our insistence that brands be “human” and engage” was a lie.

Speak for yourself, Jason. I won’t claim never to have fallen in with the “engage” crowd, but I’m not a big fan of one “guru” trying to speak for the entire industry. And since I had a cuss-word to start, I’ll keep this R-rated; we didn’t all fuck this up. In fact, most of us still think we haven’t fucked it up.

The smart people in the industry haven’t called for the end of advertising (as if we could); we valued engagement but not at the expense of sales and attainable metrics; we were aware of the scale of social media versus the rest of our clients’ and employers’ business goals.

The idea of brands being able to publish and speak for themselves online is still pretty new and still forming and changing–

— in fact, stop —

The whole reason this painful self-examination and these attempted assassinations by the never-threatened ad industry is clear: it’s Facebook ceasing to pretend that brand exposure is free, isn’t it? Just ask Jeff Esposito. This set off the hysteria in the guise of a salvo of smoke bombs to distract the world while social media scrambles to understand “paid media.” Pardon our appearance while we re-brand our industry.

–ok, where was I? Oh yes —

— Social media is still pretty new. We are going through painful transitions in some quarters. But you know what? The false social “gurus” will still be full of crap, and the people who are honestly helping companies- the majority of us – will still be helping companies succeed in their communications and marketing programs.

So, when Bob Hoffman speaks of the “roiling cesspool of arrogant, insufferable charlatans,” well, we know what small part of the social media crowd they are. So what? Clean up your own cesspool and stop making crappy ads (while you’re at it, tell Geico to pick a campaign and stick with it – what a waste of money. I vote for the lizard).

On each side of the coin, the people who are good at their jobs know the real impact of what they do, the real reach of what they try, and the pitfalls of doing the wrong thing. I don’t care if social media marketers want to figuratively light themselves on fire, and if ad people want stand by and  roast marshmallows; I’ll just continue to do work that interests me – and that I hope is good and has an impact within the wider world of marketing and communications.

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I Made Fun of Upworthy Headlines; What Happened Next was Amazing*


I like to be grumpy online about things that bug me; however, I try to be fair and limit my (usually) good-natured condemnations to an element that bugs me, rather than an entire organization or effort (an example of this ethos: think “people do stupid things” rather than “people are stupid”).

One good example of this is Upworthy. Nothing makes me crazier than the “Upworthy” style of headline, which usually goes along the lines of: “The Sun Rose Today: What Happened Next Will Amaze You.”

I guess I don’t like to be told that I will be amazed: I WILL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT.

However, what happened next shocked me; I quickly began to notice that some – perhaps many – of the stories being shared with these atrocious headlines were actually pretty interesting or moving (amazing? let’s not get carried away). How would I know that? Because friends- people I trust – said the content was worth looking at. When I bothered to click, it often was worth reading; at least, it was more often than I expected (I know, amazing, right?). That’s enough for this cynical old troll to stop crabbing.

So, no, Upworthy stories are not worthless; in fact, it’s just another lesson along the lines of “don’t judge a book by the Hello Kitty protective cover some shallow middle schooler put on it.”

I still hate the headlines- they do a disservice to the better stories out there.

And stop using the word amazing (or don’t); it has surely lost its meaning by now.

 

* Not really

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This is Why People Hate “Social Media Authors”

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Ok, first of all, the hyperbole of the post title is designed for attention. Perhaps my next post will be “This is Why People Hate Bloggers Who Write Hyperbolic Post Titles.” Moving on…

I will try to sidestep the – undoubtedly – hundreds of bloggers and other writers jumping on Randi Zuckerberg for using Veteran’s Day to hawk her book, with no clear connection to veterans in the book whatsoever. PR people and marketers like myself talk ourselves blue in the face about “newsjacking” gone wrong on a weekly basis.

I could also just jump in and attack “social media book authors,” when, in fact, I am impressed – indeed, at time envious – of those who can commit to getting something produced, even if it sits unread on their friends’ dusty bookshelves (I read every book I get, eventually….probably).

I will simply settle in on the sin of “overreach;” people assume that everyone is so excited about what they are doing, that they blast through the boundaries of appropriateness and logic to apply their own pride, their baby, their precious words – to something that makes no sense.

If people understand that what they are doing isn’t always the most important thing in the universe, they will make ore friends- even, to swipe a phrase, influence people.

So, no “PR Lessons from Randi Zuckerberg’s Horrifying Veteran’s Day Hijack:” no “Stop Signing Copies of Your Book in Random Bookstores as if it’s a Golden Ticket:” not even a “Stop Jumping on Everything People do Wrong in Social Media as if You are The Smartest Person on the Twitter.”

Just, think. Think about who actually cares and focus on those people. And move on.

Photo credit: “Horrified” by mirsasha, on Flickr

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Less Grumpy About Vine, Google Plus & Social Business (But Still Grumpy)

I like being a curmudgeon. How much? This much:

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When new ideas, phrases, and tools come out in the social media world, I am not normally the first to jump aboard. In fact, the more people who get out their pompons and cheer the latest unproven tool or idea, the grumpier I get. That doesn’t mean I think the latest hot thing will fail. I’m happy to be wrong, but I’m also very sensitive to “too early.” That attitude is stamped all over this blog, certainly. I currently think of three (ok four) things that presently catch me at various stages of curmudgeonliness:

Vine (and Instagram): This past week, Twitter announced a product resulting from an acquisition: Vine allows people to make six second videos that loop in playback. Sounds like an animated GIF? Why yes, yes it does (I can’t stand animated GIFs). It’s also, for me, a little harder to get the hang of. Here is my review of Vine on Vine. I don’t quite squeeze it all in:

Wait, there are no visible embed links?

Creative people are doing fun things with it of course (see if you can get lucky on Vinepeek.com), but I can’t get on the “second coming of whatever this is supposed to be the second coming of” train for several reasons:

  • It’s iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) only: an app can hardly be called universal if it’s not on Android as well as iPhone. That was one of my big beefs with Instagram. I did come around once that app became available on Android; I’m sure Vine will also
  • It’s a “point tool”: Vine is on one level a silly toy: a video trick once can emulate with any basic editor, and also put on Twitter and Facebook, as you can with Vine, so what’s the point?
  • Is there a community? That could happen, but not yet. Community is what makes Instagram stand out: if I post a picture, more people “ike” it there than on Twitter or Facebook. You can’t underestimate that, and if a community pops up in Vine (the fact that it is part of Twitter is not enough), then all bets are off. Similarly, if a brand finds a good use for it, they should go for it. A stupid tool is not necessarily a useless tool.

Google Plus: As with Instagram, the occasional scorn I heaped on the Google Plus social network was based more on too much hype than not enough merit. Google Plus is actually quite good, but I’m not joining the hype train until I see what I can define for myself as a “tipping point” into Facebook-worthy relevance. Google itself has touted an “active user” base that now places it second only to Facebook. I remain a little skeptical of what construes an “active user” in a platform that builds its user base on the slavery of forced enrollment (if you signed up for a Google product like GMail, you are on Google Plus whether you know it or not), but their own post gives an indication of real activity. Regardless of what the numbers are, what they signify is growth, and that alone is worth paying attention to – at least a little more than before.

Was I grumpy about Google Plus when it first came up? Absolutely. Did that mean I thought it would fail? No.

Social Enterprise (or Social Business): I have been cautious about the use of the term “Social Business,” but organizations I respect (IBM and The Community Roundtable, to name two) have kept it above parody, at least for me. Still, the idea of social pervading the enterprise (in the face of “social business” having a well-established prior meaning having to do with social good) is a tough uphill climb. Brian Proffitt expressed such grumpy cynicism in his recent ReadWriteWeb article, “Social Enterprise is Not Living Up to Its Promise.” Just as I sniff at the bandwagoning of the latest Vine or other shiny object, I also am skeptical when people dismiss an idea outright before it has time to percolate. Pour hate on the hype, but allow things time to breathe.

Noting succeeds in an instant. Keep a healthy skepticism, but balance that with an open mind. Or not; slay me in the comments if you like.

Photo credit: Todd Van Hoosear, I’m pretty sure

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The Internet of Flings: Taking Care With Buzzwords

Buzz in BallstonHaving been in PR and social media for many years now, I have witnessed up close the love/hate relationship my profession has with buzzwords. I define “love” in this instance as “laziness,” of course. In my tech PR days, among the most reviled buzzwords were “solution,” “scalable” and “robust.”

Here’s the thing about buzzwords: They originally had meaning. If used properly and sparingly, they can retain their meaning.

Most recently, the phrase that has struggled with “buzzword” status is “social business.” The first problem with the use of this phrase, which a number of people (most notably IBM and The Community Roundtable) use to mean businesses adopting social media as part of their organizational DNA (my version of the definition), is that “social business” has long been used to mean something entirely different. Originally the phrase was associated with businesses aligning themselves for social good. It was fairly popular  enough to warrant its own brief Wikipedia entry. The second is that as the new definition gained traction, largely due to IBM’s credibility, it got repeated to the point that it has been threatened with meaninglessness. I have said elsewhere that I don’t think that battle has been completely lost, but I am wary whenever my fellow social media professionals fall too much in love with a term (rather than, say, accomplishments or case studies). Further, I find it harder to tell who is using the term with true intellect and thought, and who is full of it. To their credit, my friends at The Community Roundtable have acknowledged the uncertainty of using the term.

The next term undergoing this trial by buzz-fire is “The Internet of Things.” For over a decade associated with the RFID technology leaders at MIT’s Auto-ID Center, the Internet of Things recently popped up as a potential buzzword victim at the Le Web conference. Will the original meaning be distorted, or simply ignored as it falls through to less sure hands? As with social business, I don’t know. But I am afraid. Already, the focus of the Internet of Things seems to be on wearable devices; I’m not sure that was the original intent at all. Perhaps it is an evolution of the concept. Perhaps it is a platform from which some marketers launch snake oil and bad books.

We shall see. All I can hope for is that at least the debate will be interesting.

Photo credit: Buzz in Ballston by alykat, on Flickr

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What is an Agency? Social Media and Corporate Voice

"Secret Agent", 1936For the last 15 years, I have spent most of my working time with agencies (PR, social media, communications). While in the PR world it was expressly the job, or so I believed, to stay in the background and “make the client famous,” the agency/client relationship has been more than that.

Let me back up a bit: the thing I, and I believe many others in my place, have struggled with over the years is the true definition of “agency.” The most important “feeling out” bit in agency life is figuring out where your authority as an external agent to act on the behalf of the client ends, and where the internal client needs to take over. In my early PR agency days, that tended to take the shape of setting up a relationship with a reporter, then fading back in the role of facilitator. Being an actual spokesperson was not only rare, but being quoted in a publication on behalf of a client was high on the list of work nightmares.

Social media comes along, bringing the role of the agency into question once again – how far to go in being an actual “agent?”  The early fights were over “ghost-blogging” which, put simply, was hiring someone to write blog posts for you , in your voice, just as you would hire a speechwriter. Much of the disapproval was misplaced, as the crimes in these instances were not in actually doing it but doing it poorly. No matter who puts finger to keyboard, the voice has to be accurate. This was true back in my journalism career; a bullpen of producers would write copy for anchors to read and the copy had damn well better be in the voice of that day’s anchor (heaven help you if you wrote the word “particularly” for Steve or used too folksy a style for Bob). In other words, yes you can write words on behalf of someone else.

As social media platforms took various forms, managing the content for companies has become an industry. People expect companies to be “human” now and respond, or at least communicate, one-to-one and in real time (that expectation could be its own topic). That raises the stakes of the conundrum; when you speak to a company online, to whom are you really speaking. Of course, that’s where things get complicated – and is the source of the Twitter conversation captured below.

My take; an agency can certainly help perform the voice of the client when it comes to executing a social media program. The idea of agency as counsel is important and vital – helping a client define and express its voice, instructing it how to use it – but many still need help delivering on that promise. And with the strict proviso that it is done within parameters and mistake-free, then the public shouldn’t care where the social media “voice” they are talking to on a particular day is drawing their paycheck from.

One last thing: The Merriam-Webster definition of agent, as applied here, is thus: “One who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” This is a great reminder of the fact that an agency’s role isn’t merely counsel, as important as that is. The role of an agent is based on trust to act on the client’s behalf. If you have that trust, there are a lot of things you can do.

Here is the conversation referenced above. Chris’ issue is a valid one; if the person representing the company is not doing their job, then it is a bad experience all around, and his impressions are probably common to many average “consumers.” However, the person doing their job poorly could just as easily be an internal person as an agency rep: and the lack of results could be the result of a larger problem: a poor business and communications philosophy.

 

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#FailingAgenda: Social Media Lessons From– a Social Media Screwup*

As a Twitter user, I have never been a huge fan of promoted hashtags. I get that it is a way to buy exposure and discussion around a topic or a brand, and I certainly get that Twitter deserves to try to make money, but I always found the anchor Tweet pinned to the top of any search for a hashtag obnoxious. I recall trying to follow Twitter chatter at a Radian 6 user conference last year, only to have my search page topped by a paid-for Tweet every time. It did not make me think that company was very likable (though I hope I was wrong).

I really don’t want to hate the idea around these sponsored placements, and I don’t think I do. What I have recognized is that one must be careful employing them. In the case of the user conference, it was probably unnecessary when there are several substantive ways to get the ear and confidence of the audience; in fact, it probably would have been cheaper for a flight, hotel and event ticket, though I don’t know that for sure.  Being careful means trying to think ahead what might happen when you sponsor a hashtag- will you annoy people? Or even worse, will the people fight back by using the hashtag against you with their own Tweets? We have certainly seen this quite a bit in the corporate world, with varying results.

This came to mind during this week of the Democratic National Convention. Americans For Prosperity, the American SuperPAC (when will we have UltraPACs?), purchased the “#FailingAgenda” hashtag to try to promote the Republican agenda during the Democrats’ marquee event. Why not keep a voice present while the other side is getting the major attention, right?

Wrong. The one thing AFP needed to think of but apparently didn’t is that people Tweet- and, according to my friend Tom Webster at Edison Research, a plurality of Tweeters are Democrats. So, the opposition came out with guns loaded and firing away. Every time I looked at this supposedly conservative media buy, I saw it getting successfully trolled.

Later, I saw that the Obama administration, through @BarackObama, had purchased the hashtag for itself, while AFP purchased a new one, “#16TrillionFail,” which was getting similarly trolled, as the screenshot below shows:

So, what happened here? Granted, there may have been other goals, such as driving people to AFP’s site and requesting other actions there, that may have been successful- maybe it’s not even a “screwup” based on the goals AFP may have had. But from a public relations standpoint, it’s a reminder that spending money on a medium you can’t control very well is risky even in the best of times, and extremely dangerous if you represent a controversial organization or topic.

I’m not going to call this a complete fail without knowing all the facts (and I hoped I kept political bias out of this), but it was certainly interesting to watch.

(Side note: why does Twitter recommend “@taylorhicks” as a related search term? Yes, he performed at the Republican Convention last week, but… slightly better than random is all I can say).

*Yes, I really hate the “Social Media Lessons from…” blog posts. What a tired, link-baiting concept. Not everything has a “social media” lesson. I’d rather be boring than trite.

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Bonus content: Word of the day: “discoutrage” – to discourage outrageous behavior