Ragú and the Social Media Woodshed

March 16, 2012 7:27 pm

Seventy-one percent of Tweets are ignored. For brands, that may be good news.

Getting noticed can be worse than getting ignored. It’s no wonder that if you follow CPG brands online, their Facebook updates and Tweets are scrupulously, painfully dull.

Welcome to the Vanilla Web, where the goal is to be just interesting enough to avoid inducing a coma, and just innocuous enough to avoid getting yanked into the Social Media Woodshed.

The Social Media Woodshed

Unilever’s Ragú is the latest brand to get hauled into the social media woodshed. Why? As I’m sure the brand was shocked to hear, it’s because “Ragú Hates Dads“.

C.C. Chapman took issue with Mommy Blogger videos sponsored by Ragú about how Dads manage in the kitchen.

Ragu Hates DadsI don’t fault him for expressing his opinions. In fact, I follow C.C. on Twitter (@cc_chapman) because he has a nice, common sense approach to social media. His post was a lot more fair-minded than its headline, and he made a lot of good points that marketers should heed.

But like all media, social media gets pretty dull when there’s no fresh meat to chew on. And since it’s a bandwagon, it’s easy to turn a minor spark into a full-fledged firestorm. If Kim Kardashian hasn’t been arrested for punching Lindsay Lohan at Occupy Wall Street, getting horrified over the social media crisis du jour will have to do.

It reminds me of the classic movie “The Wild One”. What are people rebelling against? Whaddaya got?

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Of Torches, Pitchforks and the New Power Structure

Jason Falls asked in a blog post “Have We Grown Weary of Brand Attacks?” It’s a good question. He said:

“The effect we’ve learned from holding brands accountable — even when our accountability is unreasonable — is that we have the power.”

Obviously, of course, consumers have always had the ultimate power: they can choose not to buy a brand they dislike. And they have always had the power to organize a larger boycott.

What’s different now is that they can whip up a social media storm that can hurt a brand in a bigger way for a longer time — and they can do it without much effort.

Gangs of New Media

This means ganging up on a brand for a slip-up is no longer a trivial thing.

If we wouldn’t break a store window at our local grocery store because the store did something wrong, should we be so quick to do the virtual version of that?

I understand the visceral thrill of picking up our pitchforks and torches and expressing our righteous anger. But when it has the power to actually hurt someone’s business, I think there’s a responsibility to use that power wisely.

There’s a big difference between a consumer standing up for him or herself and being a virtual bully.

A New Social Order for Social Media?

I predict nearly every brand will eventually take its turn in the social media woodshed. If you hire a legion of young people who work cheap to post something every day, eventually someone will get furious about something: a dubious adverb, an improperly used semicolon, an unfairly split infinitive.

But for all the social media talk of “authenticity”, it’s a one-way street. A consumer can authentically rake you over the coals about any imagined offense, but a brand has no “authentic” choice but to smile and apologize.

The customer is, as ever, always right.

But Jason Falls notes in his blog post that he’s seeing something new:

“probably for the first time in social media’s short history, we saw people in the social media space — bloggers, influencers and so on — who pushed back against the vocal outcries claiming Ragú did nothing wrong and C.C., myself and others like us were blowing it all out of proportion.”

If he’s right – and I think he is — this is really encouraging news for brands. It suggests a new kind of social order for social media, where brands can have reason to hope the overall Internet culture will start to self-correct for gang behavior.

When your brand gets hauled into the woodshed – and it probably will — here’s my advice.

Keep your head high. Act maturely. And hope that cooler heads out there will prevail.

Disclosure: Ragú was my first client ever in digital, way back in 1995 when I created the “Mama’s Cucina” website with Fry. If I haven’t been entirely objective, it’s because I still love Mama.

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