One of the maxims I use daily in my life is to look for the lesson. Marketers have certainly taken this to heart, as you can find “What X can teach you” or “7 things to learn from X” posts on nearly any topic under the sun. That said, sometimes there is no lesson, or at least no lesson that you shouldn’t already know.
Take any of the social media debacles of recent times, such as well-known Facebook meltdowns. What’s the lesson there? Don’t behave like an idiot, or at the very least, don’t open a hospitality business if you don’t like other human beings. That’s not much of a lesson. Other strong examples are commercials produced that depict misogyny, suicide, etc. to sell products, but again, not much of a lesson there: “don’t publish patently offensive content”. That shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.
The antidote to many of these debacles would have been independent peer review, a mainstay of the scientific world. If you don’t already have a network of trusted professional friends and colleagues, go get one. Once you have a few friends who don’t work at your company and have no material interest at stake in the work of your company, confidentially share with them the things you’re working on and listen to their feedback. If they say, “That’s kind of offensive” or “that didn’t sit well with me”, then stop what you’re doing and learn why. Rework your campaign until it still hits as hard but in a different way.
If you know the lesson, look for ways to solve it or prevent it at your company. That’s the best lesson you’ll get out of someone else’s social media disaster.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
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