Social Media is maturing. Isn’t it time that social media marketers did the same?

social media fail

In this guest post, Matt Burgess argues that it’s social media marketers who are guilty of greater failings than Coles or Woolworths

Consider yourself a social media practitioner/ strategist/ consultant/ whatever? I have news for you. We’re failing. We’re failing our potential clients, we’re failing the big brands, and – ultimately – ourselves. Why? One simple four-letter-word.


What’s got me riled up, and waxing lyrical on an industry that I’m finding more and more petty? Two weeks ago, Mumbrella happened to spot a post on Woolworths’ Facebook page which probably wasn’t rolling out the way they had planned. The “offending” post? A fairly innocuous status update that I would wager 90% of Facebook Page Admins have used in the past: a “complete this sentence” update.

#wooliesweekend "fail" post.

The #wooliesweekend "Fail" Facebook post...

Yesterday I noticed Coles being hauled over the coals (heh) for their own “Finish this sentence” faux pas. While clearly, Coles did make a bit of a boo-boo by posting the update to their Twitter account, as opposed to a moderated Facebook page, they quickly apologised for the error – to little avail.

Speaking as someone with a good amount of experience managing Facebook pages with a large amount of fans, I can tell you that the old “fill in the blank” update is a goldmine when it comes to inspiring engagement on your Facebook page. And engagement is the lifeblood of any page. Not only is it a vital part of Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, it’s also a major “social proof” since Facebook made the “Talking About This” metric publicly available on any page.

So yes, I’ve used that very same status update type. And I’ve seen some incredible interaction rates from my fans. But – as with any post you put up on Facebook – the opportunity exists for your fans to turn it around and say something negative. That’s just the nature of the beast, and anyone who actually has experience running a page themselves should know that.

And unfortunately, that’s how it started to play out for Woolies. Some of their “fans” took the update as a chance to complain about everything from stock quality, to prices, to comparing them to their main competitor, Coles. And then Mumbrella posted about the comments.

Mumbrella’s post initially was fairly light; a two-line post, with an image of the Facebook and Twitter posts in question. But then it started to gain some traction on Twitter. And that’s where any of us in the field started to lose a bit of our collective respectability.

Tweets began to fly through the #wooliesweekend hashtag, with gleeful calls of “Fail!”, “Social Media disaster!”, and various permutations of “Lols… big brands don’t get social media”.

(side note: I never got an answer to that question. Not one that satisfied me. The only replies I received were ones telling me to “look at the comments. It’s a total fail!”. That argument is akin to travelling to a different country, and deciding that steadily repeating things at an increasing volume means you can speak the local dialect.)

You see, I have a dirty little secret to share: if you’re using social media, you’re going to get negative comments.

That’s just the way it is.

You deal with it, and move on. You adapt your approaches. And you learn. It happens to the best of brands. Really, I think that’s where part of my frustration lies.

“Social Media Gurus” are always telling brands to “take a risk. Join the conversation. Open yourself up to criticism”. Woolies and Coles did. They took that scary step off the ledge. And people took the first opportunity to pull them down for taking that step.

The hundreds of marketing folks on Twitter, gleefully rubbing their hands together cackling “Fail… fail… fail…” simply seemed to me to be the ultimate case of making a mountain out of molehill. When you get right down to it, the comments on the Facebook post were nothing that you couldn’t see on a hundred other pages. Here is something that happens every day on Facebook, but the vultures were hungrily swooping in to claim how they would have done things better.

Only, they weren’t – 99% of the commenters on Twitter were simply jumping onto the bandwagon, without adding any constructive criticism. And that brings me to the second point of this post: we failed, you guys. We failed Woolworths and Coles, and we failed other brands considering dipping their toes into the social pond.

All we’re doing is making our own work harder by offering only criticism, but no solutions. We’re failing our potential clients when we laugh, instead of lending a hand. We’re chasing them away, instead of offering them a glass of warm milk and a cookie. So let’s cut it out, and get to work. Everyone says social media is maturing. Isn’t it time that social media marketers did the same?

Matt Burgess is a senior digital alchemist at digital agency iReckon, where an earlier version of this post first appeared.


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