As individual and brand users of social media, we have to realize that we don’t “own” our messages as much as we “share” our messages. I use the word “messages” as a catch-all for what we show and tell across the vast platforms available to us.
This is not defeatist nor is it a position of weakness. It’s a fact. What you say today on, for example, Twitter can be liked, reshared, commented on, taken out of context, reshaped to convey a completely different point of view, pulled up years later as a reference regarding something related or unrelated, screenshotted, cropped, covertly edited…the list goes on. These things can be done for good, bad, and clickbait.
A subset of the wide target audience might engage. Of that subset, there are multiple subsets. Auto-likers, obligated likers, genuine likers, haters, and full-on attention seekers. Of the attention-seeking subset, there are still more subsets. Proliferators, thieves, over-celebrators, challengers, trolls, debaters, and auto-contrarians.
All of these people have something in common: freedom. Or, at least, relative freedom. Is that good? It depends on who you are and what you want to gain by posting a message.
Elon Musk bought Twitter. Have you heard? His big-picture claim seems to be that he did it to promote free, transparent speech. How one might interpret this is probably based on knowledge of the situation, trust or distrust of him/Twitter/the world at large, personal and/or political beliefs, and general interest level (among other things). Speaking of “free,” Musk indicated that businesses and governments might ultimately have to pay a fee to use Twitter. Stay tuned.
To brands trying to utilize social media as a messaging tool, what does “freedom” mean? Anyone can say anything about your brand, products, actions, and values with total impunity? That’s a hard…maybe.
We’ve seen an absolute explosion of news and information peppering our world, and at the same time we’ve seen a deep plunge in the level of accuracy and accountability related to that content.
With freedom and the unpredictability of the ramifications of anything you post, what should brands do and say? Should you fret over every word, image, comment, and customer complaint? Should you embrace or avoid social issues? Should you even be on TikTok? Should you worry about what’s going to happen with this whole Twitter thing?
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 to 1951) studied logic, language, math, and the human mind. Wittgenstein lived an interesting, unusual, and tortured life. He was born into immense wealth but gave it all up purposefully, he served in World War I, and he grappled with life’s biggest and bleakest questions constantly. He had trouble with many dichotomies in his life. For example, he hated that he was teaching something as intangible as philosophy while something as visceral and horrible as World War II was happening. Also, he took a job delivering prescription drugs to hospital patients, where he told the patients not to take the drugs. Long story short, he was conflicted by the questions and conflicts that arose in a constantly and dramatically changing world.
I bring up Wittgenstein to draw a (possibly odd) parallel between his world and our world. He once said this:
“When we think about the future of the world, we always have in mind its being where it would be if it continued to move as we see it moving now. We do not realize that it moves not in a straight line and that its direction changes constantly.”
That reminds me of what brands are grappling with right now. Where is this all going to end up? When the dust settles, will we know that Elon Musk bought Twitter to empower free speech, or will we find out it was spurred by some kind of alliance with governments that ease or obstruct his other business operations? Neither? Both?
Who knows? See: Wittgenstein quote.
As a brand operating in this world, what should you do?
- Put your consumer first. Remember her/him/them AT. ALL. TIMES.
- Create a true set of brand (and/or organizational) values that drive everything you do and also act as criteria upon which you judge everything you do.
- Craft a brand voice that acts as the catalyst for how you deliver messages.
- Specifically and thoughtfully define your strategy for every platform you use or consider using.
While tempting, avoid asking, “Should we be on Twitter?”
Instead, reframe and ask, “Given what we know about our consumers, what we believe in based on our brand values, and how we have crafted our awesome brand voice, how and why should we use Twitter to connect with our audience?”
You’re a brand marketer, and you need to make choices, create go-to-market plans, and determine what risks you should take and avoid. You are free to do that, and you are consequently “free” to feel the joy and pain associated with those freedoms. Therefore, you need to think hard about the evolution of social platforms and what they mean to Your Consumer. Is the wind blowing in a way that makes a particular platform untrustworthy? Is there a “really cool” platform that also doesn’t need more advertisers in it? Is there a burgeoning platform that you might want to test out?
Ask yourself, your stakeholders, and your partners questions. Discuss these things with purpose. The world of marketing, advertising, and communications is fraught with peril and jam-packed with opportunity. Should you take risks? Probably. Should they be calculated and informed by very important foundational aspects of your brand? Definitely.
That seems obvious. But, guess what: many brands don’t do it that way. They should.
Coming back to the topic of freedom, we know that some of our most significant communications vehicles are owned by individual and corporate behemoths. Elon, Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc. Are we free? This might be another blog post…or book…or movie…or Netflix series…or basis for the next big social platform. (Side note, this is a really provocative quote from Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.” Hmmm.)