September 11th is a somber day, a moment of national reflection, quiet mourning, and wondering how far we’ve come (if we’ve gone anywhere at all). And, sadly, with each passing year, 9/11 has prompted its own gross traditions: the “tragedy porn” re-airings of that day’s coverage, the can-you-top-this game of “where I was when I found out” Facebook statuses, and, most of all, the yearly competition to see which clueless “brand” can send out the most inappropriate anniversary tweet. This year, dumbass social media managers came through like champs (thanks for the sentiment, Fleshlight!) — and this in the same week as one of the most spectacular corporate Twitter fails in recent memory. So seriously, what do we have to do to get these twits off our Twitter?
Any giant (and free) phenomenon requires revenue, of course, and since Twitter began offering up “promoted tweets” in 2010, we’ve had to deal with that bit of digital fungus — a decidedly #FirstWorldProblem, to be sure, but one that’s easily ignored, and sort of understandable as the cost of keeping the lights on. (Looks like they can pretty much keep ‘em all on, all night.) Promoted tweets are to Twitter as commercial breaks are to television, and if I question the accuracy of their targeting algorithm (I’m not exactly the audience for Benghazi conspiracy websites and Sarah Palin hunting shows, thanks), it’s not like all the commercials during Brooklyn Nine-Nine are quite my speed either.
Where it gets sticky is when busybody “brands” try to insert themselves into conversations they’ve got no business in — to further the television analogy, it’s the Twitter equivalent of product placement, a distracting and ineffective bit of clumsiness that ultimately reeks of desperation. Take the most recent example: the hot DiGiorno mess. If you were lucky enough to miss it, the frozen pizza company got in a bit of digital hot water the other night, when it tried to piggyback on the moving domestic violence-storytelling #WhyIStayed hasthtag by offering up this reason for staying in an abusive relationship: “You had pizza.”
They quickly pulled the tweet, and spent the next several hours personally apologizing to just about everyone who tweeted at them about it in the short time it was up (which was a lot of people). My first question, when I heard the story, wasn’t, “How could they have done that?” It would be obvious even if they hadn’t tweeted the explanation:
Because why would they. This is the knee-jerk impulse of terrible social media management: if something is trending, get on that shit. Why bother finding out what it actually means? That might take, oh, a minute and a half, but that’s a minute and a half of precious, wasted “impressions” and “branding.” #WhyIStayed is probably just about why people stay with people! NOW LET’S PIZZA THAT SHIT UP.
So the cause of the error isn’t the question, any more than the question is, “Why would Build-A-Bear or White Castle or Applebee’s or a Yoga studio or a masturbatory aid think it was tasteful or necessary or savvy branding to remind us to never forget about 9/11?” The question is, why the hell are people following them in the first place? Look, I’ll own it: I eat DiGiorno’s Pizza regularly. (I’m not saying so out of pride. But “cheap, easy, and digestible” goes a long way when you’ve got a one-year-old.) And there’s never been one moment during the consumption of those many — and I do mean many — rising-crust pepperoni pizzas where I’ve thought to myself, “Ya know what? I don’t know enough about DiGiorno Pizza, and those obnoxious ‘It’s not delivery’ commercials aren’t providing me with sufficient advertising for this frozen pizza company. Why aren’t I following them, on the Twitter?” But — and you might wanna sit down for this — 82,000 people have had something resembling that thought, and clicked “follow.” Applebee’s has 372,000 followers. Build-A-Bear, home of the cammy-clad 9/11 bear, has 47,000. And 41,000 are following Fleshlight.
At risk of invoking Jerry Seinfeld, who are these people? Because they’re just as much to blame for these kerfuffles as the poor saps running these feeds, or the suits who pay them (poorly, most likely). The importance and value of carving out a social media presence for a company, no matter how big or small, is indisputable — and it can be done well, as with A24 Films’ Twitter or Denny’s Tumblr (to name two of the most obvious examples). But serious occasions often serve as a harsh reminder of how many are doing it wrong, and as long as the rest of us keep soliciting their solicitations, they’ve got little impetus to do otherwise.