Towards the last few months of 2012, there were a couple of interesting blogs on HBR by Jeff Stibel which strongly recommends those who have failed. In Why I Hire People Who Fail and For President, I Want the Guy Who’s Failed Jeff wants us to change our outlook on failure and think of it as a very desirable trait. Are those building teams and recruiting hearing this? Should we top our LinkedIn profiles with “my top 10 experiments that failed”? Has the brave new world set in yet? Are we ready to let Frankenstein back into the genetic engineering lab?
The beauty of Frankenstein as a work of literature lay in the myriad failures it pointed at (If you haven’t read it yet, read it!). The abundant flaws in all of its characters were laden with learnings for readers. Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the ‘monster’, is so disillusioned by the ugliness of his creature, that he falls severely ill. And later while creating a female mate for his creature, Victor realizes the risk of unleashing a race of 8-foot tall and savage giants on mankind. When Victor finally dies on the ship, the creature laments the fall of his creator and lists the latter in his long list of victims. The fallacies of the creator, the creature and those that abhorred the creature based on his looks forms the backbone of this book, which was itself an experiment and widely regarded as the first work of science fiction. The book, a masterpiece in several ways, was initially received with much disdain by critics and even led its authoress Mary Shelly to say “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”
While the world of digital marketing (mostly) does not deal with the hideous, it can sometimes be plagued with errors of judgement or attention. So what is it that we learnt from some of these mistakes we made in the last year and how is it that we can avoid them? While some of the references are obvious, I have tried to not use any brand names (Jeff might want them though!).
Social media goof up of the year would be a twitter campaign that goes by the hashtag #<brand name>Stories. Before I went up to speak at the inter-school debates, my team would always warn me against throwing vague and open ended-questions at the audience like “what are you thinking today”. I was told this greatly reduces the chances of public humiliation. Now with hashtags that are expected to generate brand stories are we inviting the devil in to the buffet dinner? Is it safer to experiment with low-risk and more specific hashtags, especially if you are not in the business of saving puppies? There were several other social media campaigns that also thought us not to use natural disasters or mass movements for campaigns e.g. “This storm blows but free shipping doesn’t or “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard about our new spring collection”.
The world of blogging saw one of the world’s largest PR firms offer an apology for running a pro-retail outlet brand blog by making it appear like an independent review of a happy couple on the move in their RV. Be honest about where you push your marketing and PR spend so readers know the extent of your influence in the digital space. A great example would be Ray Gallon’s full disclosure paragraph at the bottom of his review of Adobe TechComm Suite 4.
Though it didn’t technically happen in 2012 (but in December 2011) the email marketing mistake of an employee of America’s largest local metropolitan newspaper saw an email meant for 300 people who ended their subscription being sent to its 8 million subscribers instead. Many of the 8 million subscribers were hurt they were not offered a similar subscription! An unfortunate human error did you say? Could it perhaps have been averted by tool intervention?
The SEO industry was abuzz with Google introducing many changes to tighten the screws on black-hat techniques and several businesses burnt their fingers in terms of faulty link-building and keyword stuffing. What new changes will Google make this year and are marketers still aware of their possibly black-hat search marketing techniques? And now with the launch of Facebook Graph Search, experts seem to differ on its potential for marketers.
In Mary Shelly’s book, Victor Frankenstein warns Robert Walton, “learn from my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.” With more avenues for digital marketing investments, will we also have newer avenues for future disasters or have we learnt enough from the past? Will there be a 2013 list of top 10 digital marketing disasters?