What You Can Learn About Social Media Marketing from TLC
Because a Flickr photo and tweet I posted eventually was responded to, I debated posting this altogether. However, the lack of follow-through was unsettling enough that I am publishing this post.
The first week of September was difficult for American cable network TLC. There was a hostage situation at the parent company, Discovery Communications, on the first of the month. The three hostages are fortunately safe, and business resumed as usual for Discovery Communications staffers.
Around that time, though, I noticed that TLC was promoting Foursquare as Facebook within their TV programs. On multiple occasions, I noticed an overlay during their episodes that encouraged users to follow them on Foursquare with a link to a Facebook.com address.
I posted to Flickr and tried my best to bring it to their attention. And I waited.
Five days later, their Twitter account remained silent. I elected instead to go to their Facebook account with the hopes that perhaps my luck would be better there. I was wrong.
First, their default landing tab featured an inactive promotion (which has since been pulled after I wrote yet another tweet that pointed to a Flickr screenshot of the ended promotion). I would not have been surprised if it had been inactive for quite some time.
What about their Facebook wall? Surely representatives responding on behalf of TLC/Discovery will respond — minimally, they’d clean up spam. No?
Beats me. (Again, Facebook was eventually cleaned up.) For what it’s worth, it was over a holiday weekend, but I occasionally see similar messages submitted during business hours that remain visible.
By this point, it was evident that it was going to be difficult to reach a representative on behalf of a company about an issue that actually has some legitimacy. There’s a clear error in their promotion and they aren’t acknowledging the issue. In fact, during the time I sought them out, it became evident that the TLC Twitter account was wholly automated, with tweets promoting their new season premieres.
So I went to their website in search of some way to contact someone. I couldn’t find a contact form. I even tried accessing their press page, only to be told that I’d have to request an account to get access to legitimate contact addresses. At that point, I gave up and powered up WordPress.
TLC made many missteps when it came to their social media marketing efforts. Most importantly, it seems like their engagement plan of action is totally haphazard and that they’re participating in shiny toy syndrome. Fortunately, it’s time for everyone else to get some takeaways from their misfires. Heck, perhaps TLC will come by and ramp up their social media efforts. It’s so desperately needed.
Social Media is Social
First and foremost, let’s lay down some ground rules. Social media came to being recently mostly because individuals from all over the world realized that they can congregate online — for free — to talk about things that they’re passionate about. As domain names and web hosting got cheaper and cheaper, it was easy for individuals to build communities that they loved and that would help like-minded folks meet each other.
Before long, social networks became hugely successful, and savvy marketers realized that they could create accounts on these networks to promote themselves. Whether they’re big or small, it’s almost an equal opportunity for every business or brand to get involved in the social media space (as a note, many small businesses are doing this better than TLC right now!).
In the last few years, as social media has grown in popularity, so too has the desire for more and more companies to get involved. However, many of those companies are still gripping onto the traditional roles of an earlier era. Today, we’re in a many-to-many relationship. It’s not a one-to-many relationship. You need to do a lot more than broadcast to succeed.
It’s not just media. It’s social media. You need to be prepared to converse with (and not just speak to) your constituents. If you’re not ready, don’t put your social media presence front and center on your website. Better yet, start watching how other people are doing it and start listening to what’s actually happening in the space.
Following the previous point, automation is a pretty big sin in the world of social media. Plus, quite frankly, it’s offensive. If I see you on social media channels, it’s because I want to speak to you, not a shadow of something you stored to your account six days ago and queued up for the weekend. You can’t automate social media, and while it’s very compelling to do so, if you’re a big brand, we can tell.
I’m not saying you should never automate. However, who really just builds up a Twitter or Facebook and lets it churn out content on a daily basis without any oversight or manual interaction? If you’re a company like TLC, that means people will tweet at you and you won’t reply. That means someone could post the worst pornographic image you’ve ever seen on your company’s Facebook wall and you wouldn’t know about it until you’re in the office the next day, at which point you open it up and get fired when your boss, who just so happened to have been walking behind you, sees that NSFW content. That means something catastrophic may occur and you won’t know until days later because you did your social media duty for the week. That’s not how social media works.
As I said earlier, “Remember, engagement is key.” TLC might be lucky that they’re a big brand and already have an audience, but some of those individuals in their audience do know when to spot a company that doesn’t get it. Here’s to you, TLC.
It’s not advisable for any student to hand in a paper to his teacher without having proofread the document for any egregious mistakes, grammatical or conceptual. It’s not advisable for a company to promote a video campaign with a video that shows a typo in the company’s URL. It’s not advisable for me to publish this post without rereading and seeing if there’s anything I need to edit. Every time I publish a post, I proofread it at least a dozen times.
Review everything before it goes live, especially if your target audience is thousands or millions of people. I’m not sure how many people or departments saw that TLC Foursquare/Facebook overlay before it was “sent to our TV screens” (quote out of the Jack Bauer playbook), but I’d imagine that at least a few eyeballs merely glossed over it.
Don’t just gloss. Pay attention. Social media is pretty public facing and therefore should be considered serious business if you want to be taken seriously. Review everything carefully and be diligent about your involvement. If you’re not interested, it becomes clear to us that you don’t care about us and just think of the social media space as “just another space to leverage.” The word “leverage” here is not a positive term and should be considered synonymous with “exploit” and “manipulate.” If you care, your efforts will be obvious. Otherwise, you’re just insulting your followers.
Admit When You’re Wrong
One of the goals of social media is to put the human back into business. Instead of being defensive, admit that you messed up. Say you’re sorry. Trust me, people will forgive you if you’re wrong and admit to your blunder rather than cover it up.
After I had written most of this post (but right before I published it), TLC replied to me defending their stance with the Foursqaure/Facebook promotion. I was told that the “mistake” about the Foursquare-Facebook promotion was legitimate, since they were polling users on Facebook to find places where Foursquare badges can be given — yes, read that again. I’m not convinced. Wall posts get pushed down pretty darn quickly, which would mean by the time you discovered that overlay on TV, you’d go to the Facebook page and wonder what the heck Foursquare was. In fact, the screenshot above with all the spam shows that that Foursquare status update was nowhere to be found.
Perhaps they DID have a landing page that I never saw (though I don’t believe they did), but the overlay also said “Follow TLC on Foursquare” (not shown above) and Facebook isn’t Foursquare any way you churn it. Plus, when I saw it, that landing page — if it existed — was long gone.
I may be totally insensitive here, but TLC did screw this up, and when I replied explaining this the rationale I had behind what seemed to be an illogical promotion, I was met with silence. It’s been over a week now and I figured now’s as good a time as any to publish this post.
It’s a Daily Job
I wrote most of this article over Labor Day. It’s my holiday just as much as it is the holiday down there in the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Xobni recently released a report showing that we check our email all the time. The report surveyed over 2,200 adults and found that many are dedicated to their work.
I don’t know if TLC is dedicated at all to their social media efforts. I do see many other companies doing this right, though.
When it comes to social media, you need to be responsive. Queuing up messages is fine if you mix that with other engagement, especially when their concerns necessitate a response. Tuning into what your customers are saying or simply monitoring the channels (especially when not doing so can harm your brand) is required of you. Otherwise, why are you here?
I’m totally sympathetic to what happened at TLC’s headquarters, especially since the office was apparently closed after the situation, but you don’t have to be physically present in the office to be practicing social media. (And if your office is really closed, perhaps saying happy birthday to a follower and ignoring more pressing matters during that time isn’t advisable.) Unfortunately, this is a huge change in culture for many people — it’s not a 9-5 task anymore.
My specific concern is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but PR firestorms can break out if you don’t reply quickly. (Remember Motrin Moms?) In this day and age, you need to be monitoring your brand all the time especially if you have some sort of social media presence.
Make it Easy for Fans to Connect
If you have a Twitter page, monitor when people tweet about you and ask for more information where necessary. If you have a Facebook page and someone asks an important question, respond to the individual, even if to say “I’ll look into it. Thanks for your support!” The bottom line is that you should let your customers know that you’re listening. It shows them that you care. That’s a big paradigm shift and companies are still confused about doing that right.
When all else fails, nobody should try to hunt for a contact number or email address that they still haven’t found after 20 minutes. Make it easy. Install a CAPTCHA if you’re worried that you’ll get more email than you can handle. Sometimes the emails being sent to your attention are actually important.
Don’t Let Emergencies Derail Your Efforts
It was very unfortunate to hear what happened at the Discovery Communications headquarters earlier this month. However, this should not be a reason to stop, drop, and disappear.
In the IT world, it’s always great to have a disaster recovery plan in place. For most business with physical locations, it’s important to have an evacuation plan in place. In the social media world, it’s also imperative to have an emergency preparedness plan in place. In the event of emergencies, someone should be designated to run the public relations and oversee all inbound and outbound communications.
While a legitimate emergency might cause business closures in single or multiple office locations, the rest of the world is still awake and some might be demanding of your attention. While my specific concern might be minor in the grand scheme of things, the lesson here is major: if something is going wrong, it’s better to communicate effectively than not at all.
At the end of the day, TLC is making a respectable effort, and while so many companies are doing a better job than TLC, TLC isn’t doing that bad a job either. However, they do need to improve and be on top of their game if they are to be taken seriously.
The biggest thing social media did for many companies was make them approachable again. It’s what human businesses do. Thankfully, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of companies that are getting it right, but there are still companies that need to play catch-up. It’s not too late.