Google’s “Three Black Teenagers” Controversy — And How It Works the Way It Does

Three Black Teenagers

It all began, as so many things do today, with a tweet. Just this week, teenager Kabir Alli noticed that typing in “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers” produced notably different results. In the case of “three black teenagers,” many of the search results were related to arrests. In the case of “three white teenagers,” many of the search results were for stock photos. Many are understandably angry — but who should we be angry at, and why?

Why Google Isn’t to Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

Google has come under fire for showing racially skewed results, but that’s not how Google works. Google works by promoting the most relevant results — the results that are most likely to be desired when searching for a certain query. This is why Redditors have been able to bomb Google in the past: they upvote an unrelated image under the title of a search query and that image begins to show up in Image Results. You can take a picture of a frog and label it “Grand Concert Pianist.” If the link becomes popular enough, queries for “Grand Concert Pianist” will come up with a frog.

Essentially, Google reflects the temperature of the global Internet zeitgeist. All it can do is reflect what is on the Internet. It’s an unbiased system that reveals social biases. In the case of “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers”, it’s showing us that articles with the phrase three black teenagers tend to be crime-oriented. It’s also telling us that stock photographers do not take photos of black teenagers together as often as they take pictures of white teenagers together.

Three Black Teenagers
Two out of the five top results for “three black teenagers” are now related to the three black teenagers Google results — showing that Google is only reflecting what people are searching for when they look for images associated with that query.

Why We’re To Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

But though Google might not be biased, it certainly is showing bias. It’s just our bias. Three black teenagers indicates that more positive media is being produced about white teens than black teens — and that race is generally made into an issue when crime is involved. It’s easy to become outraged at the most obvious source, which is the source that is providing the data. But that isn’t always the most effective path. Google cannot censor its search results without opening the door for some troubling issues. All it can do is reflect reality.

The “Three ___ Teenagers” Explored

Black teens and white teens aren’t the only ones with bias. “Three asian teenagers” almost universally produces images of girls and the stock photos are mixed in with porn. “Three mexican teenagers” produces cultural images interspersed with mugshots and gangs. These biases show the stereotypes that we most often connect with race — and it’s an interesting lesson in content and search engine optimization. For social media marketers, it’s even more interesting how quickly controversy about “three black teenagers” has dominated search results.

Apartment Association Gets Aggressive With Its Social Media Campaign

In a bizarre case of social media gone wrong, a building complex issued a “Facebook Addendum” insisting that tenants friend their Facebook page. The addendum noted that negative reviews were forbidden. Predictably, this backfired, sending hundreds of one star reviews in the building’s direction. If there’s one thing social media campaigners need to learn about the Internet, it’s that customers hate being told what they have to do.

Not the First Apartment Complex Gone Bad

In 2015 there was another similar story when an apartment complex threatened fines for negative reviews. The implication here is that there are individuals who are competent enough to create a “Social Media Addendum” yet not smart enough to realize that what they are doing is both illegal and unethical. As associations increasingly see their online reviews controlling the tenants and owners they can attract, it’s becoming more urgent for them to control their media. But they haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

A Lesson Learned in Social Media Marketing

It’s difficult to say whether this is a lesson about social media or a lesson about human nature. Social media always goes wrong when marketers attempt to fight their consumers. The goal is to give the consumers what they want — not tell them what you want. Marketers often go wrong when they get frustrated; the customer isn’t doing what they want, so they feel they have to herd the customer into it. All this does is produce a poor user experience and alienate potential clients.

The Better Way to Deal With Negative Reviews

Fining someone $10,000 for a negative review isn’t just unfeasible, it’s probably illegal. Moreover, there are far better ways to deal with negative reviews. The best way for a marketer to deal with negative sentiment is:

  • Transparency. Respond immediately and in public so that others can see your response.
  • Resolution. Provide a solution for the customer immediately and give them further contact information.
  • Professionalism. Always be polite and professional with the customer — even if they’re wrong.

Then again, it’s likely neither of the above communities consulted with a professional social media marketer. One thing is certain though — their lawyer, if they even have one, is probably racking up the billable hours.

6 Online Marketing Lessons from the Presidential Primaries

It’s undeniable that social media and the Internet audience has had a measurable impact on the political process this primary season. Whether this is because we’re turning to social media for our insights now more than ever or simply because campaigners are becoming savvy to social media’s uses, there are some very real lessons for marketers to learn.

1. It’s All About the Meme-ing

pepe-the-frog-1272162_1280Think of meme-ing as a sort of pill capsule. Through meme-ing, you take an already old and played out idea, pack it with your personalized message, and then feed it to the Internet zeitgeist. It’s not a great way to get across complex ideas, but it’s a fantastic way to build momentum and drum up influence. In fact, the entirety of the Trump campaign is essentially built on a platform of memes. Thanks to services such as Patreon, there are now even “professional” memers. Like racketeers, no one knows what they actually do.

2. You Don’t Need to Build Momentum — Just Capture It

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have one thing in common — well, besides the fact that they’re white, male, and pariahs within their parties. OK they actually have a few things in common. But in terms of marketing, both of them were able to capture an undercurrent of rage and distrust within their respective political systems. They didn’t create this wave. They answered it. When it comes to marketing, you don’t have to create a new craze or a trend: you have to find one to capitalize upon.

3. If You Can’t Fight It, Bury It

cable-1101805_1280And believe me — you can’t fight it. It’s impossible to actually hide negative press anymore, but it’s possible to bury it with more positive news, or just hide it when no one’s watching. This is one reason the White House tends to distribute bad news late on Friday evenings. In terms of marketing, you can most definitely fight news with news.

4. A Single Mistake and It’s All Over

We actually learned this one over a decade ago with “The Dean Scream.” You just have to make one mistake — the right mistake — and you’re suddenly plastered all over the news. A single upwards glance by Hillary Clinton in a Harlem apartment has turned into a meme of its own and isn’t likely to die fast. This means that you have to be incredibly cautious as a marketer, because a single slip could be your last. Anything that you say on the Internet will remain on the Internet… forever.

5. People Are Incredibly Fickle

As an addition to the above, there’s a reason why a single mistake can end a campaign. People always want to be on the “right” side, and their opinion of the “right” side is based on public perception. That’s why some Bernie supporters switched to voting for Hillary late in the primaries because they thought she was more likely to win. It effectively took away their personal right to vote, but it was more psychologically satisfying — even though it had zero effect on the general election. If you can seem like a winner, you’re golden.

6. Sometimes You Can Seem Too Good

The Bernie Sanders campaign found out something kind of remarkable: if you seem really, really good at what you do, people actually care less. For instance, if they think you’re definitely going to win at the next election, they don’t vote. And when you do lose later on, they then blame you. Marketers are constantly seeing this type of rebound effect: when you set expectations too high, every single under-performing moment is scrutinized. Set your expectations reasonably and ramp up from there — it’s safer.

Basically what we’ve discovered during the presidential primaries is that the Internet is chaotic, unpredictable, and powerful. When you can harness the Internet audience, you can do anything — but once you begin losing their favor, the tides can quickly turn against you.

Chinese Government Astroturfing Revealed By Harvard University

A study released by a Harvard University research team indicates that the Chinese government is doing some significant astroturfing. Over 400 million fake social media comments could be produced by the Chinese government every year, with the goal of altering public perception of the country.

The “50 Cent” Party

The 50 Cent Party is a group of paid social media commentators, who are given 50 cents per pro-Chinese post. The 50 Cent Party may start their own threads or may begin engaging in existing ones, with the express goal of convincingly defending Chinese policies, government, and culture. Though it’s long been known that the 50 Cent Party existed — and, to a lesser extent, that they were incredibly prolific — the new Harvard University study gives an actual measurement to the activity.

Not Just China

China isn’t the only country engaging in heavy astroturfing. Russia has often been accused of this as well. Many well-known cases of astroturfing have been perpetrated by private companies. In 2006, Walmart engaged in an astroturfing campaign that appeared to be a blog run by two consumers. In 2007, launched a campaign against Google that appeared to be user-supported, but was actually a marketing campaign by the company itself. The Hillary Clinton campaign has also been accused of astroturfing through social media.

The Problem of Astroturfing

Public perception is often influenced by the media. The goal of astroturfing is to change public perception by flooding media with the desired point of view. Studies have shown that people are inclined to agree with the majority even if they believe that the majority is wrong. This is an instinct that his a holdover from humanity’s tribal origins; it’s usually more beneficial to cooperate than to be correct. Thus, astroturfing is actually incredibly powerful. As long as an individual is convinced that a majority feels a certain way, they too will probably feel that way.

Though astroturfing may be morally problematic, it also can’t be stopped. The Chinese government isn’t doing anything strictly wrong or illegal — the only way they would be is if they were violating the individual Terms of Service for the websites that they are posting on. Propaganda has existed for as long as countries have existed, and social media and the Internet is simply making it far easier to distribute.

When Your Boss Sabotages Your Social Media Campaign

Most marketers know the experience. You wake up to a flurry of emails and message notifications and you think to yourself: “Great. What did he say now?” Everyone has had that one problem client — the client that just can’t keep their mouth shut. Unfortunately, when managing your own company’s marketing campaign, you may discover that there are more “that guys” than you thought.

The Problem of the Rogue Agent

firearm-1300396_1280Thanks to the magic of social media, a single employee can cause some incredible damage to their company’s reputation. Many employees have their social media accounts visible to the world and they often discuss their work freely. A single off-the-cuff comment taken the wrong way can rapidly spiral into something that is now associated with the company forever. When it’s a boss or someone at the higher levels of the company, it’s even more difficult to manage. You can’t monitor everyone all the time, so what can you do?

Lock Down Your Core Accounts

Core members of the business — decision makers, management, and anyone in marketing and sales — need to have their social media on lock down. This means no visible personal accounts and carefully maintained business accounts. These are the individuals at your company who are going to be under the most scrutiny — and the words that are said by them are going to spread the fastest.

Adopt Brand Sentiment Strategies

If your business has hundreds (or even thousands) of employees, how can you ensure that your brand is being represented fairly? Brand sentiment analysis will analyze and track mentions of your branding online, to identify any potential problems as they develop. Brand sentiment is a valuable marketing tool for many reasons, including its ability to help put out fires.

React Quickly to Social Media Incidents

When a social media incident does occur, most customers and prospective customers will be waiting to see how you initially react. By reacting quickly and resolving the problem immediately (even if it requires a separation from the employee), you can usually regain consumer faith. Naturally, this depends highly on the nature of the social media sabotage. Unintentional sabotage can often be adequately handled through employee re-training.

Limit Exposure to Social Media Platforms

If your boss has a tendency to, say, jump on Yelp and start yelling at people, there’s only one question you should be asking yourself: “Why do they even have access to the Yelp page?” One of the best ways to mitigate potential social media disasters is to restrict access to any social media accounts and owned media to only the marketers.

You can’t save people from themselves. If the higher-ups at your company are truly determined to tank their social media standing, there’s very little that you can do. Nevertheless, with the above strategies and tactics, you may be able to mitigate some of the worst of it — at least long enough to meet your own marketing goals.

Four Critical Online Community Management Lessons from Reddit

So, Reddit has been a mess lately. One might assume that the “front page of the Internet” would have better community management skills. But, conspiracy theories aside, Reddit has shown some spectacularly bad PR decisions in the past few weeks… and their fumbling can become your learning experience. Here are a few of the things that Reddit might have wanted to do, if they hadn’t wanted to experience a complete upheaval of their user base.

phone-735062_12801. Always Communicate With Your Users

Reddit’s first mistake, out of many, was making major decisions about their platform without communicating with their users first. The administrators made a sequence of unpopular decisions and apparently believed that an announcement after the fact would suffice. If they had communicated with their users first, they might have avoided the worst of the blow back. (And we say apparently believed because, again, there are some who believe it was intentional.)

Reddit’s second mistake was underestimating the general intelligence of the uncontrollable hivemind that they had created. Though the user base may be occasionally (or even often) incorrect, there were still many users who noticed inconsistencies within the decision-making process. And though a hivemind may be slightly dumber than its individual components, it can still be more suspicious. Without clear communication, the user base took off on a variety of conspiracy theories, some insane and some frighteningly probable.

woman-789146_12802. Never Make Assumptions About the User Experience

Reddit’s administrators seem to have entirely underestimated the popularity of their AMA administrator, Victoria aka Chooter. Though they undoubtedly knew banning subreddits would create an immense storm of drama, they didn’t seem to anticipate the reaction that firing Victoria would have. And this, from one perspective, could be understandable. They saw the work that Victoria was doing, but did not see the reaction to it. For many, Victoria had become the quickly-typing-hands of the AMA process. She had her own fans. And these fans were legion.

You should never make an assumption that your users see your community the same way that you do. A feature of your site that you think of little more than nuisance or clutter could be an intrinsic component of the user experience to others. Communication and data analysis are two ways that you can get a better picture of how your community actually uses your site, rather than how you would use your site.

russia-95311_12803. Value Your Employees

Community employees — even volunteers, such as moderators — tend to be the “face” of a community. Not only do they need to be valued, but they also need to be chosen properly. They will set the tone of your community. To upper management, low-level community employees may seem entirely replaceable. To the users, they may define the entire community — and users can be spectacularly loyal. Not only were the users of Reddit upset when Victoria was let go, but they were further outraged when the founder and administrator of Reddit Gifts was similarly given the boot.

How could this have been avoided? Sometimes an employee has to separate from a company. But if it’s done properly and with goodwill, it won’t be seen as a slap in the face to the users who valued them.

But let’s close this with something that Reddit actually did right…

fire-171229_12804. Move On Quickly

People on the Internet have short attention spans. It’s just the nature of this free-flowing, fast-paced informational world we live in. If you move on fast enough from anything, no matter how bad the situation is, you’ll usually be able to distract them. For Reddit, the announcement was made that their CEO was stepping down and that a new CEO was taking their place. Some brief online fanfare occurred and then everything, very quickly, went back to normal.

This kills the momentum.

Most users can’t be angry or outraged for long. Outrage requires fuel, and when denied of fuel — like a fire — it will quickly perish. As long as you can starve a fire of accelerants, you can control the situation. Now, if Reddit had continued beating the dead horse and discussing (or defending) their decisions, then they would have had a problem.

Of course, quite a few people today believe that Reddit did all of this intentionally, as a way to boot out the Interim CEO and place the original co-founder of Reddit into a position of power. Regardless of which conspiracy theories you personally believe, there’s still a lot to learn from the debacle in terms of user behavior. Users need to feel valued and they need to feel as though the administration of a community care about their desires. When they don’t, they rebel — and sometimes quite violently.

Avoiding Social Media Clashes

Whether it’s inflammatory political posts and racy vacation photos on a personal wall, confrontations on business social media accounts or another form of online strife, social media clashes are a fact of internet life. Hardly a day goes by without reading about a business that has gotten in hot water online. But, you can keep social media scandals from becoming a problem at your organization by laying down some guidelines and preparing in advance.

1. Don’t push social media duties onto low level employees.

girl-with-a-pinwheel-1395989-mThere’s still a tendency in many companies to minimize the importance of social media. Often, social media is a job assigned to entry level employees or even to interns. But, your social media accounts are your business’s public face. Entrust them to savvy and level-headed people so that tensions can be dissolved and missteps avoided.

2. Have a clear social media policy.

Spell out expectations for behavior on social media. Have firm policies in place about using personal equipment for professional social media posts and vice versa. By making sure that everyone understands what you expect, you can avoid culture clashes and inappropriate posts.

3. Counsel employees on social media safety.

chains-993898-mDespite the wide adoption of social media, many people are still not up to speed on social media safety and etiquette. Many accounts are vulnerable to hacking. In other cases, people are not aware that what they share privately can be screen-capped and shared more publicly. Have workshops on social media privacy to help avoid embarrassing photos or posts from becoming connected with your company. Talk about how social media posts can live on far longer than people might like and how people should be careful what they post even on personal accounts.

4. Keep an ear to the ground.

Use social listening to find out what people inside and outside your company are saying about your brand. This way, if there is a controversy or an unhappy customer, you can respond quickly and make the situation a social media win instead of a social media gaffe. Social listening can also be effective when you are planning a promotion. By seeing what people are talking about and how they react to different news stories and brand promotions, you can increase your chances of a social promotion going well.

In the digital age, the lines between the public and private spheres can be blurred. And sometimes, this can lead to clashes between individual and company social presences and the company culture. But, by setting expectations, keeping up with best practices and addressing issues as they occur, you can bring your company culture and social presence together. By helping them align, you get happier employees and a stronger brand online.

When Bad Press Turns Good: Negating the Negative through Social Media Campaigns

dolphin“No publicity is bad publicity” is a phrase residing firmly within the realm of non-marketers. Marketers are aware that some publicity is provably bad publicity. One need only look towards SeaWorld, which saw its stock plummet and never recover following the release of the chilling documentary Blackfish, Still, bad publicity only seems to affect companies for a long time if it kicks the proverbial (or, for that matter, literal) puppy. Consumers tend to be very forgiving should there be no direct element of harm. Some companies can even turn their bad press around through effective marketing — and social media is one of the best ways to do it.

ground meatThe Taco Bell 35% Beef

Taco Bell found itself on the wrong side of a lawsuit in 2011, when they were accused of serving “beef” that, in fact, contained only 35% beef. According to the suit, Taco Bell’s seasoned beef didn’t contain enough beef to even be called beef, so it was (again, allegedly) a case of false advertising. The suit further claimed that the rest of the product was made out of water, oats, soy and corn starch — and, to be fair, this wasn’t entirely unbelievable. The class-action lawsuit circulated quickly, calling for Taco Bell to change its marketing to “mixed meat” rather than “seasoned ground beef.”

Taco Bell responded quickly and transparently, producing a recipe of 88% beef. They followed up not only through the press but also by reaching out through social media; the response was overwhelmingly positive through both Facebook and YouTube, with an average of 90% of responses being positive. And, the thing was… well. Most people didn’t really care what went into their Taco Bell taco, they just cared about being lied to. In fact, many  were already gleefully eating Taco Bell imagining the worst: that it was composed dominantly of saw dust and grease.

By showing that it was, in fact, 88% beef, Taco Bell actually exceeded their expectations. Hell — most customers would have counted anything above 50% a win.

By Wasforgas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsThe #SusanAlbumParty

Maybe this actually underscores the importance of properly formatting hashes. Regardless, most people wouldn’t have heard about Susan Boyle’s record, released in 2012, if her PR manager hadn’t completely glitched out that day. Seeking to promote the album through Twitter, @SusanBoyleHQ implored fans to tweet in questions to #susanalbumparty, apparently not thinking too much of it. Obviously, the Internet did think something of it, quickly noting the somewhat rude message hiding in the hash, and the tag was quickly trending over the world. The consequence? The album vastly exceeded expectations. It even went platinum in Australia and New Zealand, three years after the height of her popularity.

Obviously, they quite stumbled into this — or, did they? It could have been nothing more than an embarrassing side note if @SusanBoyleHQ had decided to delete and disavow the tweet. It could have even gone very poorly. The web has historically shown a dogged determination not to let such embarrassing mistakes slide quietly into the night. By rolling with it, not trying to hide it and not getting overly aggressive about it, they turned the tide positive with virtually no effort at all. By the end, no one was laughing at Susan Boyle, they were laughing with her — and buying her album. It could have been an entirely different situation had her marketing team not had somewhat of a sense of humor.

pomegranatePOM Wonderful’s Snake Oil

On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, POM Wonderful was skewered for making unsubstantiated health claims about the benefits of pomegranate juice for prostate cancer, among other health issues. John Oliver gleefully referred to it as “snake oil,” and encouraged purchasers of the juice to add stickers to it suggesting that it contained dogs. False health claims can be incredibly damaging to a company’s brand — and, in fact, can cause harm. At the same time that John Oliver was making his quippy statements, news reports were lambasting the juice business — and the entire situation recently ended in a lawsuit,which POM Wonderful initially lost but appealed and won.

It seems like a nightmare for a brand, but POM Wonderful is still on shelves and the company is doing remarkably well. POM Wonderful responded very quickly to John Oliver by sending a humorous letter, which changed the tone of the entire debacle. By focusing on John Oliver’s humorous take down of their product — and by showing their own good humor — they made the entire issue less serious. The John Oliver segment ended up on YouTube, where it is currently sitting at 2,054,707 views, 18,408 likes and a mere 226 dislikes. Even better, this allowed POM Wonderful to hit John Oliver’s core demographic — males between 18 and 35.

Social media creates a personal relationship between the consumer and the company, making it extraordinarily effective at managing bad publicity issues. When bad press hits, companies need to respond quickly, transparently and in the appropriate tone if they are to keep their consumer base engaged and positive. Many businesses fail to achieve this: they react negatively to bad press, try to sweep it under the rug or simply don’t take it seriously. Above all, customers want to see as though their concerns have been listened to and valued.

orcaEven SeaWorld could have theoretically bounced back from its animal abuse controversy had it taken the concerns of its customers under serious advisement. Instead, the company seemingly ignored customer concerns, repeatedly insisting that there was nothing to worry about and attempting to continue moving forward without any major changes. The company spent large amounts of money on marketing campaigns directed towards bringing visitors in without appropriately assuring them that they had changed — leaving their customers adrift, wondering if they mattered to the business and wondering if the animal abuse issues had been addressed at all.

What Is “Edgy” Marketing, Anyway, And Why Does It Disgust Us?

Companies have been trying and failing at “edgy marketing” since before 2009, and the concept itself peaked in popularity somewhere around 2013. If you run a search query on the very concept of edgy marketing, you’re returned twice as many failures as you are successes. So why is it that “edginess” still intrudes upon our marketing content? It would seem as though while creating edgy content died out, creating “content with edge” did not.

But it should. It really, really should.

dictionary-698538_1280A Matter of Definition: Let’s Define “Edgy”

What is edgy, anyway? Today, it’s considered some sort of “secret sauce” that you just layer onto something to make it punchier, brighter and more exciting. “Edgy” can mean almost anything to a client. Shorter. Bolder. Livelier. Funnier. Angrier.

Basically, just better. In fact, when most clients say they want their copy to be edgier, what they’re really saying is that it’s boring right now. And that could be for any number of things that have nothing to do with its Edge Factor.

But let’s define what edge really means to a marketer. Edge is a combination of things: silly, irreverent, blunt and direct. An edgy campaign doesn’t necessarily have to be an offensive campaign, but many are “mainstream” offensive: being a little rude to the customer, being blunt about profit goals or being overly obvious about a product’s marketing. Most of the problems with edgy marketing occur when the marketers cross too firmly over to “offensive.”

bubble-19329_1280Edgy is Easy — Facts are Hard

Edgy marketing is appealing because it’s usually easy. It appeals to our baser needs. Instead of creating a 6,000 word white paper about olfactory instincts and hormones, you can just create a splash page that says “You Smell! Buy Our Soap!”

But to backtrack on that, creating just any edgy marketing campaign is easy — creating a good one is very hard. And that’s why it fell out of favor almost as quickly as it came into it.

A trend with a rise and fall similar to clickbait, edgy marketing really only worked when it was unique and new. Once the market became absolutely inundated with edgy, bizarre and offensive ads, the consumer started turning away. The whole appeal of edgy advertising was that advertisers were saying things that advertisers weren’t supposed to say. Once everyone was doing it, what was the point?

It was no longer a small marketing rebellion; it was the status quo.

human-733478_1280A Generation That’s Out-of-Touch With Itself

You always run into problems when marketers try to appeal to a demographic that they can’t possibly relate to or understand. But what if they can’t understand their own demographic? Not much can really be said about “millennials” as a whole — this generation is a diverse group that’s mostly typified by its sheer terror of taking out loans and credit.

And for some reason when you’re wearing the marketing hat, everything just goes haywire. You can excuse it when it’s large advertising agencies; it’s people who are ten, twenty or thirty years older than the focus group. But when people are trying to advertise to their peers and wildly hitting off mark — what’s going on?

Well, that’s a case of client blindness: when you focus so much on what the client is thinking and feeling that you forget that the client may be very much like yourself. You’re thinking too much about “Well, these guys will find it funny,” and not asking yourself “Wait — do I find this funny?”

And that’s a real problem. The best content creators are often the ones who are able to really connect in an honest and open way to their clients. Not the ones who are just looking for a cheap emotional appeal.

accidental-slip-542551_1280But Let’s Get Back to the Epic Fails

You can and should cringe a little. In fact, you can also cringe at the word cringe, or worst yet, cringeworthy. We’ve explained why edgy marketing is still popular and why it fails, but not why it’s so absolutely disgusting when it does. In fact, it’s almost a little embarrassing.

You feel a little embarrassed for them.

An edgy campaign that fails has misunderstood the product’s role in your life so significantly that it’s just sad. They think that their service is so special that you would allow them to abuse you (“you’re dumb if you don’t drink this!”), or that you’re so stupid that you’ll buy into an obvious ploy (“drink this, it doesn’t totally suck”). They’ve completely misinterpreted you. 

And that’s like, the one job they had.

And sometimes it’s a little too spot on. Edgy advertising targets the immature. And we were all immature once. So, for those who have matured, it only reminds us of a time when we might have bought into that lazy advertising and been proud to do it. The last thing you want to do, as a marketer, is to trigger memories of awkward high school years. Unless you’re selling something to awkward high school people.

Most companies today don’t set out with the goal of creating an “edgy” campaign, they simply keep trying to add “edge” to their content to create something more compelling. But really, all that does is dumb the content down: it elevates base, emotional appeals, while reducing actual value. If balance is lost, the content loses its integrity.

Consider all of the companies that have tried and failed at “edgy marketing” a cautionary tale; trying to toe the line between memorable and offensive usually isn’t worth the trouble. That doesn’t mean that your content shouldn’t have personality, but that personality doesn’t have to come at the cost of respect for your audience.

DON’T Automate Everything

Do not automate

We’ve all heard the mantra: automate everything! And, automation is awesome. Marketing automation allows you to send informative email drip campaigns to prospects with little extra effort. It makes it easy to keep up with client anniversaries, birthdays, and even things like local weather in your client’s part of the world.

But, there’s a lot that still requires a human touch. A few places automated tools are almost guaranteed to steer you wrong:

ticked-checkbox-1280927-mSpelling and Grammar Checks

Automated tools can do some interesting things. They can, of course, identify most misspellings. Many can help you spot passive text or other issues. But, they are no replacement for manual proofreading. They won’t catch homonyms. They’ll give false positives for grammar issues or miss them altogether. And, if you are writing in a niche that’s heavy in technical jargon, a lot of the words you use won’t be in most spell check dictionaries at all.

twitterDMsNew Follower Greetings

How many automated DMs do you get from people you follow on Twitter? How many do you open? And, even if you do open them, how many times do you take the sender up on the inevitable invitation to visit their Facebook or LinkedIn? I mean, you just started following them on Twitter. What makes anyone think that you automatically want to traipse all across the web listening to everything they have to say? Or, even worse, immediately go to trying to sell them a service?

Instead, how about a simple, personal hello? Take a look at a new follower’s profile and find something specific to note in your response.

If you do need to automate, at least offer something instead of asking something from this person who has already been kind enough to increase your number of Twitter followers by one. Offer a four or five word bio, then ask them something about themselves. This way, you’re starting a conversation instead of turning them off.

Ad Bids

There are plenty of tools to automate your PPC bids. But, left unchecked, you can find that campaigns either get little reach or take a hefty chunk out of your advertising budget. There are a ton of analytic tools available. Use them to test ads and tweak your parameters based on performance. Over time, you’ll find that you are getting much better qualified clicks and making your budget go much farther.

Ad Targeting

Many marketers consider it a slam dunk: the prospect posts about a kayak trip and all of the ads he sees are suddenly about outdoor water sports. But, a recent study suggests that, rather than finding this serendipitous, modern surfers merely find it creepy. And, some targeting is incredibly tone deaf. I’ve seen Facebook friends who’ve complained of ads for counseling after confiding in a friend about depression, or weight loss ads after they’ve made a joke about eating the whole pie after dinner. Not cool, marketers.

Automation’s awesome. But, it’s not everything. Good thing, too, since a totally automated internet would put people like us out of a job. So, while we’re still a viable part of the online economy, take some time to do more by hand and get selective with what you automate.