Recently I was pondering some public relations disasters I’ve been hearing about and observing sometimes from a distance, such as with marketing, or in the Church. As many people do, they had failed to take into account how information on the internet going viral is the same as a lit match plus a bucket of gasoline resulting in a forest fire.
You simply can’t put a cat back inside the bag once it’s out.
Or to borrow another innuendo, you can’t put the beans back in the can once they’ve been spilled.
What’s done is done.
This can be good, or it can be bad. You can’t prevent what information gets out there. But marketers can be wise about what they do in reaction to how something goes viral that they may not have wanted going viral.
Once you plant an idea in people’s heads, even if you try removing every instance of it from history books or from any page on the internet that may have hosted it, it is in there and can germinate and blossom. You can’t do anything about it. This is both a hopeful thing, for positive reasons, but it can also be a dreaded reality for those who want to stop the spreading the bleeding.You can delete web pages or Facebook comments, but you can't erase people's memories, try as you might!Click To Tweet
You cannot contain a fire!
The direction my thoughts are wandering in as I drink my coffee this morning are mostly with the powerful way ideas can spread. Especially in this day and age of the internet which has given anybody and everybody on this planet with access to it the ability to share anything they want or can. With the mobile web and smart phone revolution predicting that more people will use the internet on a mobile device or tablet than on a desktop by the year 2015 (I think maybe even sooner), we are constantly needing to unlearn our methods of communication from the past at faster paces than ever before and adapt.
We can’t underestimate the emerging new methods for information sharing.
I was talking with a mobile marketing colleague the other night who told me something like “businesses who don’t have a website that’s mobile optimized or that looks good on a smart phone or tablet are going to be screwed in a year”.
One would think this revolution in world communications taking place faster than the color TV revolution of the 1950s would be a good thing, but likewise it has just as much capability of being used wrongly as any other method of communication ever known to man has also had its abuses.
Not many months ago, the US government unsuccessfully tried to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill, much to the chagrin of most internet users once they finally became informed. In case you didn’t know about it or didn’t realize it when it happened, many websites such as Wikipedia and Google either shut down their sites entirely for one day, or made an obvious splash page directing visitors to information about it so people could be informed of the dangers of this bill. Large quantities of people phoned representatives to urge them to vote against it. Now, an even more insidious bill is being proposed called CISPA.
Do your research, Google it and get mad. Very mad.
Historical Propaganda Machines
I’m currently more than halfway through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. The reason I’m taking so long to read it on my Kindle is because it’s almost 1300 pages in print, so it’s not exactly a fast read, but it is worth the money if you’re a student of history like I consider myself to be.
One of the things the Nazi government made sure to do in the 1930s was to implement a department of propaganda who were in charge of radio, print, film and the emerging technology of television broadcast. They saw to it that nothing was allowed to be broadcast into the German consciousness that was not pro-Nazi. Opposing ideas were not permitted. The Gestapo weeded out anybody from public offices or deep thinkers who had any clout or anything to say that presented the government in a bad light. Not just people who were anti-Nazi, but people suspected of not being pro-Nazi enough.
History has taught us many thousands of such political threats were assassinated during those pre-war years. You may not be willing to admit it, but the US government is getting increasingly controlling with their policies, and if there’s anything more threatening to keeping the well-being and control of the masses, it’s a medium such as the internet in which heretofore has pretty much been a network used for the free sharing of ideas and worldwide communication. Therefore it’s no surprise that governments bent on doing who knows what, exactly, are trying to do everything they can to funnel the internet and turn it into a consumption-only network that, um, they control, which they deem themselves the most worthy to be in control of.
For our “safety”, of course.
But my thoughts are not meant to be going into politics or governmental opposition. Observe this picture and let’s move on in a different train of thought for a moment.
#McFail: Social Media and Preventing Things We Don’t Want Going Viral
Back in January, McDonald’s promoted the hashtag #MeetTheFarmers to get real-life stories about the company’s trusted suppliers and their healthy ingredients. It seemed like a smart idea and initially elicited some good tweets. But then came the big mistake: McDonald’s introduced another hashtag, #McDStories which backfired.
By including the McDonald’s brand, the hashtag became a target for a deluge of negative tweets, far from what the bigwigs at McDonald’s were hoping for, or expecting. It got ‘tweetjacked.’
People tweeted things like:
Watching a classmate projectile vomit his food all over the restaurant during a 6th grade trip. #McDStories
— j.f. smith (@jfsmith23) January 23, 2012
I haven’t been to McDonalds in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea. #McDStories
— @_@ (@Muzzafuzza) January 18, 2012
I usually just buy a Big Mac, smear it in my underwear, and throw it in the toilet. Saves me from having the tummyache that way. #McDStories
— Bowman ? (@Magic_Unicorn) January 30, 2012
#McDStories My 6 year old thinks the golden arches are streams of pee, whenever we go to Regina, he stops us at McD’s in Brooks to whiz.
— Daryl Maksymec (@sidepix) January 25, 2012
And on and on it went, and on some level, still goes.
After one hour McDonald’s cancelled their promoted hashtag, but the damage was already done and if you search you can still see evidence of #McFail on Twitter. Their promotion backfired gloriously, and merely cancelling their promoted tweet did absolutely nothing to stop the flood of negative ideas from spreading once they’d gotten out.
Heads at McDonald’s marketing department underestimated the risks of this campaign and sought feverishly to plug the holes in this fast sinking ship of a campaign disaster this turned out to be.
What We Can Learn From This
Internet marketers are learning from one of the biggest social media mistakes in recent memory to be even more careful with the risks they take using these mediums to promote themselves. Even if you can erase the evidence that there ever was a campaign that went wrong, you can’t erase people’s memories from remembering that they saw it happen. But you can handle how you respond and react.You can't erase people's memories from remembering that they saw it happen. But you can handle how you respond and react.Click To Tweet
People who are trying to control other people don’t enjoy a free flow of ideas unless they are a free flow of their own ideas. If you are creating a discipling culture, you can reproduce healthy ideas into others who can pass them on into others, and start a real spread of ideas.
This results in evolution and revolution.
But if you are creating your own ministry, business, empire or mega church, you don’t like questions because out of necessity, “dumb sheep” will challenge the things that are made of wood, hay and stubble.
The biggest thing leaders can do when a problem gets out of hand is to remain humble instead of trying to contain the fire, and only make things worse for themselves. Damage control is easier to do from a place of humility than it is from a place of defensiveness. Whether McDonald’s handled themselves properly in their business context, is a matter of subjective opinion. But when it comes to church leaders, the best thing we can do is ‘lay low’ and remain humble. God can defend us.
My coffee is finished. I may explore more of these thoughts later.Damage control is easier to do from a place of humility than it is from a place of defensiveness.Click To Tweet