The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media

July 1, 2008 at 5:52 am | Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Communication, Companies, Facebook, Marketing, Online marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 18 Comments
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Social media like Facebook, Flickr, and Delicious has been around for a couple of years now and companies are starting to dip a tentative toe into the water. While such courage should be applauded, serious missteps have occurred that embarrass the offending company.

And it is not the courageous steps that have been embarrassing, but the sheer level of assholery with which companies have partaken their social media experiments. Because social media is all about sharing, collaboration, and communication, it is little surprise that folks expressed outrage at the heavy-handed or downright immoral dealings of the companies outlined below.

In this post, I will list five of the deadly sins as outlined by Joseph Jaffe’s speech at the ANA’s Integrated Media Conference and then offer two additional sins of my own.

From Joseph Jaffe:

  • Faking (Sprint): The phone company released ads in which the CEO offered an email address, giving the opportunity for communication. Instead, a corporate shill auto-responder emails back.
  • Manipulating (Sony): The maker of the PSP created a fake blog and attempted to manipulate the conversation. They ended up garnering a deserved “golden poop” award.
  • Controlling (T-Mobile): The phone company sent cease and desist letters to a popular blog for using a color they claim to have trademarked. The blogosphere revolted and T-mobile missed a chance to meaningfully engage with its customers.
  • Dominating (Target): A blogger was ignored by the retail giant because they felt she didn’t have the clout of traditional media outlets. After the blogger gained more and more attention, Target claimed that their continued silence was based on a lack of adequate staff.
  • Avoiding (Starbucks): The coffee giant already felt a squeeze from its consumer base, but avoided a fan’s desire to visit every store was passed on. The only response to the fan was one of suspicion.

In these cases, the sin is not that the company was just stupid (though there’s no shortage of that). The sin is that they failed to engage at a pivotal moment with an active community that supported them with their checkbooks. They refused to join the conversation and felt the ramifications.

Here are my two nominations to round out the deadly sins of social media:

  • Greediness (AP): The Associated Press recently pushed for restrictions on the amount of their content bloggers could cite. In the era of Google juice, link love, and a wealth of online information, the AP chose the path of restriction, as though this greediness would result in keeping all of the information under their roof. It took only 24 hours for the back-peddling to begin and it now appears that they will wisely drop the call for restrictions. They had the opportunity to engage their readership, even empower the bloggers and other outlets who were distributing their content free of charge, but they trotted out the lawyers instead.
  • Cowardice (Dunkin’ Donuts and Heinz): Dunkin’ Donuts pulled a series of ads after political partisans attacked spokeswoman Rachael Ray’s scarf for looking like a terrorist’s (yes, you read that correctly – a terrorist scarf). Likewise, Heinz pulled an ad deemed by the small-minded to be “unsuitable for children” because the on-running joke throughout the ad ends with two men kissing (cripes, the explanation sounds racier than the actual spot). Instead of giving their customers some credit or engaging in a conversation about the merits of their arguments (or the absurdity of their opponent’s), both companies caved. A conversation was passed up in favor of tucking tail and running.

These examples did not emerge from the company’s social media outreach per se, but they do speak to elements in a new social media economy. When companies are scared to engage their customers, it is a bad sign. All of these examples – Jaffe’s and mine – are based around fear.

I highly encourage you to read more about Joseph Jaffe’s speech and read some of the other sources linked to in this article. Is your company scared to talk to its customers? Are you worried about what you might find out? Or do you have more examples of companies living the old way (dictating brand messages from above)? Let us know in the comments section below.

P.S.: I can’t end a post about seven deadly sins without a hat tip to Sonia for writing the 10 commandments of social media. That sounds so much more regal! Her first commandment? “Thou Shalt Participate in the Conversation”…

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  1. Great post, most of these can be called “control” something brands and agencies have wanted to do for a long time with the message.

    Hey, do you have any details on Starbucks ignoring the fan? If you do, could you send it to mattrhames at yahoo?

    Finally, I would add Dell as an example of doing it better now. I did a post about stupid company rules last week and simply suggested one could “Ask Dell” about sticking to rules. The Ask Dell linked to the story about Jeff Jarvis and his exploding computer. Anyway, someone from Dell responded.

  2. These are some great examples. Something that is consistent across these sins is “hubris”. Instead of approaching these channels as a new way to connect with customers, I imagine the teams sitting in a room together plotting how to “take advantage of this new trend”.

    An interesting follow up post might be to go through each example with a thought experiment of how they could have done it right, or what that point of engagement could have been with customers. I’d be curious to hear what you think, and where they could have gone right.

  3. Thanks Matt and Josh.

    Matt – The Starbuck’s fan’s name was “Winter” if I remember correctly and it all occurred within the last year. That may help you dig up a story. If I find anything though I will send it your way.

    Josh – Good suggestion! I do have a few in mind, but unfortunately the bad outweigh the good right now. Of note is Jockey who apparently let consumers post their own reviews of their products right on their website. I’ve heard the reviews are almost always glowing 🙂

  4. Hi, I’ve added an eighth one on our site (

    Laziness: Bloggers are “pyjama clad geeks” with a ton of time on their hands and with space to fill. They’d like nothing better to write about our brand and print your release verbatim!

    Virtual world citizens have had to put up with cr*p goods manufactured by amateurs, they can’t wait to get their computer generated hands on those familiar products they’ve grown to love!

    People love messing around with their Facebook pages. It’s going to be cool to give them a whole load of widgets that ultimately get them to buy our wares!

    Wrong, wrong and wrong. The assumption by some brands (encouraged by agencies trying to get their mitts on the cash) is that online targeting is easy. The opposite is of course true.

    Two more and it’s ten!

  5. Thanks for the link, DJ! Of course the deadly sins must be tied to the 10 commandments.

    This reminds me of something that crossed my mind listening to the Jim Beam product guy at SOBCon. (He seemed like a great and smart guy.) He was talking about “our brand,” “my brand,” etc., and I realized, “Nope, it’s not your brand any more. You sent it out to the ‘net, and it’s our brand now.”

    Very few big companies (and big agencies) have the courage to let that happen without a fight. But it will happen, fight or no fight, if you’re worth talking about.

  6. […] Unternehmen werden in den kommenden fünf Jahren massiv in Web 2.0 Technologie investieren. The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media (OnlineMarketerBlog) Welche Fehler man im Umgang mit Social Media auf keinen Fall machen […]

  7. I concur with all of them… terrible form.

    I didn’t know you could copyright a colour. What was it it called? Greem?

    I think the one sin that connects all of these is a fundamental ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ tactic. Each of these culd have been spun positively, yet they have chosen to go down the negative route. It’s just poor public relations.

    Right, I’m off to get a scarf with terrorist connotations, they are so going to be in for Autumn 08.

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  9. For every step forward large corporations make, they always seem to take 2 steps back. They are scared of the consumer instead of willingly ready to engage with them. Stop being scared of 1 bad review, stop being scared of complaints. Social Media is here to help you talk to your customers. Use it, but use it right!

    And please make sure a real person, with a real name, job title, phone nubmer and email address is working this angle for you. I never again want to see an email from the “team” or something to that extent. Time to get personal people!

  10. I’d agree with your point about greed – and Jaffe should take note. I stopped reading his blog to get away from his endless shills for i-phones, cameras, free airline tickets …

  11. […] 7 Deadly Sins Of Social Media […]

  12. Great post!

    Very good practical points put across. It just shows that corporations should not underestimate the “power” of social media and most definately should not try to fake it.

  13. […] The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media […]

  14. I’m in no way defending stupid and oblivious corporations but… could this behavior possibly be one result of the equally stupid and widespread lawsuits by consumers looking for a quick buck?

  15. I dealt with Toy R Us after bad customer service in a store. The online complaint department just sent the same auto responder letter back no matter what I said to them. I finally copied all the mails and sent them to the lawyer that handles their stock. Wow, things happened then.

    I do not understand why people or companies only want to talk to you if you have a wallet out. If you have problems and are not right in their face they ignore you. This also applies to being a great distance away from customers that you only know online.

    I try to imagine that all my customers are my neighbors. I am glad that some of them are not. LOL!

    I also agree that some customers would complain about anything just for a free handout or lawsuit. The courts need to put their foot down on that.
    Maybe that would free up time for companies to deal with real issues.

  16. […] The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media « OnlineMarketerBlog Nice roundups of 7 big companies “sins” on social media (tags: social-media deadly-sin) […]

  17. […] ran across a great blog post on about the seven deadly sins of social media (the first five of which came from a Joseph Jaffe […]

  18. Thanks for all of the great comments, everyone! If you like this story, please feel free to digg it:


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