Social Media: A Powerful Double-Edged Sword
Updated: Apr 27
Social media gives businesses and government offices unprecedented access to their customers. You can reach out directly to clients, users and fans to ask for participation and even to chat directly about anything that relates to an organization’s overall mission. In many ways, it’s a marketer’s dream come true; brands are friends now rather than abstract entities, and that perception is essentially built into the culture of an increasingly digital world. But the other side of that coin is a raft of high expectations, hashtag boycotts and online infamy for ill-timed, incorrectly-worded or generally poorly-judged posts. Is your company taking the right steps to ensure proper oversight and management of your social media accounts?
The TayTweets Disaster
In the language of the digital world, serious errors aren’t mistakes. They’re “fails.” Microsoft suffered a memorable fail in 2016 when one of its teams launched an artificial intelligence chatbot account on Twitter. This account, @TayandYou, was completely automated and run by a computer program, known as a chatbot, designed to mimic human speech based on user input. This bot was named Tay, and the idea was that Microsoft could demonstrate its artificial intelligence capabilities by showing Tay’s language acquisition in real-time.
Twitter users could shape the bot’s speech by tweeting at it directly. What started as an innocent experiment quickly devolved into a flurry of tweets featuring language no brand would ever want to see on one of its official accounts. Within 16 hours, Microsoft locked down the account and protected its existing tweets. It’s nearly impossible to completely delete anything from the internet, and a cursory search will quickly reveal screenshots and other archived images of the things Tay said during those 16 hours.
Learning From and Avoiding Social Fails
It’s easy to look at this situation and wonder how the team in charge of the Taybot account failed to anticipate this outcome. That’s a complex question to answer, but it’s most likely that the team in question was so focused on its tech accomplishment that it neglected to consider the harsh realities of the digital environment. With just a little more oversight and digital community management, this experiment could have played out in a much different and, ultimately, more successful way.
For every “How did nobody catch this?” kind of mistake on social media, there are dozens of brand success stories that highlight savvy use of the medium, such as those from fast food restaurants Wendy’s and Arby’s who have built popularity and online infamy in the right ways. This ultimately results in optimal brand positioning to reach a new audience of customers. Social media is easy to use, but that ease belies the complexity of the medium.