But what do you do when you find yourself disagreeing with the experts in your industry?

It’s a tradition for any site that covers internet trends to post the annual “it’s a new year and here’s all the ways this year is going to be completely different than last year and everything you knew is now wrong” type article. Usually they’re in the form of a survey of the movers and shakers in the industry (which is a nice way of displacing the blame when something turns out to be wrong). Sometimes they’re pretty on the ball, and sometimes… not so much. A few days ago, Search Engine Journal posted an article titled, “14 Ways to Amp Up Your Content Marketing Strategy for 2015.”

Sometimes Marketing and SEO Experts Are Wrong

The discussion it facilitated in the office proved that it’s an interesting piece, but it definitely feels rough around the edges. It’s a round-table type article, with brief responses from all of the interviewees, who are members of the Young Entrepreneur’s Council, a non-profit comprised of–you’ve guessed it–young entrepreneurs. It’s an invite-only org, and many of its members have founded notable sites such as Reddit, LivingSocial, Airbnb, and so on. So of course, they’re quite popular with the media, which is why SEJ came knocking on their door.

But, the fact that those interviewed are all on the young side is one of the big reasons why our immediate response is a bit guarded and tentative. Their age doesn’t make them wrong. This isn’t an ad hominem attack. But it encourages a cautious approach–they may not have the experience derived from numerous failures to temper their enthusiasm for throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. So their advice ends up feeling like a mixture of the obvious, and the potentially disastrous.

The first piece of advice, which thematically feels like the heart of the article, was that successful businesses are going to need to hand over control of their social marketing to their clientele, and allow them to establish a direction for where the company needs to focus its efforts and awareness. It’s suggested that doing so will be necessary to engage the involvement and interest of the public. The source of this advice states that “the few [companies] who have tried have been wildly successful.”

Apparently, they haven’t been paying attention to the massive social media faceplants that have been committed by many major companies due to audience members seizing the opportunity to incite chaos. Some of the highlights from just this year include some serious doozies (I’m going to avoid linking to sources, as a lot of the mistakes yielded some pretty profane and offensive results):

  • In November, the New England Patriots decided to celebrate reaching the milestone of having one million people follow their Twitter account. They announced that whoever became their millionth follower would have their Twitter handle placed on an image of a Patriots jersey and be featured in a tweet on the official Patriots Twitter account. Apparently they automated this process, because they tweeted an image thanking their millionth subscriber, who just so happened to have the username @IHATE******* (replace the asterisks with a racial epithet). They didn’t catch this for about an hour, and as a result garnered a great deal of unpleasant publicity.
  • A few months earlier, the NYPD asked the public to tweet pictures of themselves with New York police officers, with the tag #myNYPD. Of course, they ended up getting flooded with pictures of police offers assaulting members of the public. Oops.
  • Twitter isn’t the only source of disastrous online publicity stunts. In 2012, Mountain Dew launched a site asking visitors to name a new flavor. Visitors could submit suggestions, and have others vote in support of the suggestions. The site featured a top 10 of the suggestions that had the most votes. The flaw in this idea became apparent when the name “Hitler did nothing wrong” quickly rocketed to number one. Horrifyingly enough, this was perhaps the least offensive of the top 10 suggestions. Mountain Dew quickly shut the site down, and stated on Twitter, “Dub the Dew definitely lost to The Internet.”

If you allow others to speak for you, you open yourself up to the consequences of everything said on your behalf. There’s little to gain, and everything to lose.

To be fair, this one suggestion voiced in the article was probably THE major offender in the list. The greatest sin committed by the rest of the interviewees was that they regurgitated the conventional wisdom that has been making the rounds the last few years–wisdom that has already proven to be correct, or otherwise. One supposed insight was that sites should make all of their media more readily accessible, and that they should be designed to be responsive and mobile-friendly. Um. That’s not exactly the most novel idea ever. Maybe they’ve been reading our blog posts about responsive site design, or one of the millions of other articles about the importance of mobile site design published over the last few years.

We’ve run into internet marketers who seem to think that how businesses interact with the public online is somehow a complete reinvention of how they operated before. This can result in business owners developing the opinion that internet marketing is exotic and difficult to understand, and easy to screw up. But really, the vast majority of what businesses with good online presences do is just an adaptation of what sensible businesses have been doing for decades.

A good example of this in the article were the interrelated suggestions that businesses (1) focus on relationship building with clients on an individual level, and (2) will need to invest more effort into speaking to their clients one-on-one through messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp (if you’re unfamiliar with these, they’re essentially fancied up ways of sending text messages), and that doing so will “engage consumers on a whole new level.”

But it isn’t a “whole new level.” If you’ve ever taken a minute and called a customer in order to address their concerns, or have used email or even postal mail for focused, personal communication with someone, then you’re already addressing that need. Developing relationships with clients and addressing their needs on an individual basis are the bare basics of good business. These newer means of communication just make things a little faster and more informal.

The medium is changing, but the message is not.

I don’t want to waste your day with 5,000 words deconstructing SEJ’s article. Take the time to read the whole of the article, discuss it with others, and see what insights you come up with. That’s the important thing. Do your research and ask questions. This can go a long ways in either finding the weaknesses in somebody’s argument, or recognizing that it’s just reworking of an old concept (but with a higher marketing price tag attached). This article is a good opportunity to practice some skeptical analysis.

As a skilled businessperson, you have the skills and ability to analyze experts’ arguments and suggestions. Take nothing on faith, including (or especially) this article as well.

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