With the results of the recent Local Elections across the UK now becoming apparent, it is becoming clear that the old adage that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ can still hold weight.
Social Media is a relatively new concept, and Social Media Marketing as a term, is an even more recent terminology. So how exactly do we – or should we – react to using social media for marketing and publicity?
History makes it pretty clear that being bad is not necessarily all it takes to make you unpopular. History is in fact littered with bad people that, rightly or wrongly, attract a certain level of respect.
Let’s take a look at Charles Manson, the infamous leader of the Manson Family who slaughtered eleven people as the peace generation in late-sixties America disintegrated and morphed into the Manson crimes, The Rolling Stones at Altamont, The Doors and Vietnam.
Manson was actually convicted by the ‘joint responsibility’ rule, similar to the current UK idea of murder ‘by association’, meaning if you are part of a gang that commits such a crime, you can be held as equally responsible as the perpetrator.
Yet Manson is still held in some quarters as an infamous celebrity worthy of a record release (he has his own Wikipedia discography page and his music has been released on various labels from 1970 right up to the present day) and a tee-shirt (‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ – a mash-up of a famous quote from Apocalypse Now and the aforesaid criminal’s image). Many well-known artists have also covered his songs with little or no media protestation.
So why does this happen? Well, in this instance, much is ‘by association’ of another kind. Charles M was part of the Summer of Love era in America, where the American Dream was very much alive and all it’s inhabitants futures were secure. But the crimes of the Manson Family seemed, in retrospect, to represent reality and a harsh truth bursting through those Summer of Love dreams – those dreams were being wiped away by a cynical new era in music, with the Velvet Underground and The Doors, and the injection of US troops into Vietnam and a subsequent rise of the protest song to chart level.
All of this happened without Social Media. There was no Twitter or Facebook and computers were just whirring sinister giants in large government rooms rather than in almost every house in the country.
Now let’s take a look at how social media has changed things. The phenomenon of the online petition can largely these days attribute much of its success to social media and going viral. Research tells us that the impact an e-petition makes on its first day is crucial to its success (research by Oxford University) and social media will certainly boost a petition’s chances in that respect. In the study, they found that any petition that received 100,000 signatures within a period of 3 months had received an average of around 3,000 within the first ten hours (30%).
It’s clear that social media plays a huge part in e-petition success, as Oxford Uni’ also found that the majority of successful online petitions were either launched by, or publicised by ‘extroverts’ with larger than average social networks.
Cnbc.com once published a list of ten businesses that had succeeded despite being considered either controversial or even morally wrong. While opinions may differ on just how accurately immoral these businesses really are, it paints a picture of where there’s a demand, there is a supply and advertising what you have to offer will improve your chances of success. Equally, in recession it is often the business that continues to advertise that survives.
One of these companies employed an advertising agency to instigate a successful billboard campaign that garnered controversy due not only to what it was advertising, but also for its choice of model – or rather her ex-profession.
Social media then spreads a few pictures of the billboard and cnbc writes an article and hey presto, business is booming at no extra cost beyond the original advertising campaign.
As the recent local council elections have drawn closer, Facebook and Twitter were awash with campaigning souls trying to give bad publicity to certain political parties, some of this becoming almost obsessive.
In reality, it is highly unlikely these posts and put-downs will have achieved anything at all apart from giving publicity to the parties in question. Yes, I know, you must be horrified by this if you’re one of these social media posters, but that’s the – rather harsh – reality.
It’s clear that we need to think carefully about the way that inadvertent social media marketing impacts the way we process and share information. If we share information with the intention of giving bad publicity, is there really much difference in how we do this compared to promoting something we wish people to see in a positive light?
The answer is actually no. Which brings us back to the idea that no publicity is bad publicity when the cause you are against (whether it be a political party or the Manson Family) has a small groundswell of (immoral or not) support or some element that might enable its support to increase by publicising that information.
Ask yourself this; how far were you into the groundbreaking series, Breaking Bad, before you stopped rooting for Walter White, despite all the horrendous things he had done? Was it series 3, maybe 4, or did you just carry on hoping he would get away with everything right up till the end?
To put it simply, if you didn’t know that Manson had a connection with Dennis Wilson and you were a Beach Boys fan, social media might inadvertently market this information to you for free with the result being that you ‘buy in’ to the whole concept – despite the bigger picture.
Of course, there are some things that are just so morally reprehensible that no amount of sharing on social media will be able to give any false credit; I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what those things might be.
So next time you embark on a campaign to discredit a political party or a company, bare in mind that we are still learning and studying how social media marketing impacts and affects the subjects as well as the recipients. Viral social media and social media marketing are powerful tools – you just might be publicising and promoting the very things you want people to avoid.
Billboard image from cnbc.com.