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Control versus Controversy in Social Media Marketing

April 2, 2021

Social media marketing used to be a fairly straightforward and freewheeling way of keeping in touch with your customers and your target audience. It would be overly dramatic to say that that role has changed across the board, but it would also be a denial of reality to suggest that anything is as simple as it once was.

For a multitude of reasons, social media has become more and more fraught with the potential for controversy, backlash, and backfire in recent years. There’s every reason to believe that the trend will continue long into the future, with different platforms being affected in different ways. It’s probably enough of a hassle to make some companies and entrepreneurs want to wash their hands of social media marketing altogether.

Unfortunately, though, the growing complexity of the social media landscape goes hand-in-hand with rising levels of importance for social media marketing. Unless you’re targeting particular niche demographics that either don’t use social media very much or specifically avoid engaging with your industry online, you can’t really afford to walk away. At the same time, you also can’t afford to go into this type of marketing with the same casual approach that was probably acceptable five or ten years ago.

Today’s minefield of social media interactions is a testament to the value of digital marketing partners. If you can find reliable third-party contractors or a dedicated in-house social media marketing team, you’re in a much better position to navigate that minefield, whether or not you want to have a direct hand in selecting and disseminating the content of your campaigns.

Hands-on vs. Hands-off                                     

The idea of giving up control over your social media marketing is understandably a source of consternation for many business owners and online personalities. There are similar reasons to embrace and to resist that idea.

On one hand, when a digital marketing strategy goes well, you’ll probably want the credit. On the other hand, when it goes wrong, you might cherish the opportunity to make someone else take the fall. At the same time, there’s really no way of knowing whether success or failure is more likely when you’re in charge, versus when you’ve outsourced your social media marketing to someone else.

Of course, the answer to that question ultimately depends on exactly who you’re outsourcing to. If it’s someone who has barely more experience in social media marketing than you have, then there’s probably no reason to assume they provide a level of security and professionalism that outweighs the appeal of having direct control over your messaging. But if it’s someone you know you can trust with all the minute details of social media marketing, then you should be able to trust them to effectively convey your own message, as well.

In any event, there are bound to still be questions about the level of control you have over your social media marketing strategy, even after you choose a professional team or individual consultant to help you with it. As with most aspects of the industry, there is no single principle to follow in resolving that question. You’ll have to have a detailed conversation with your social media marketing team in order to assess the risks and opportunities you face, then use them to determine how much independent control your social accounts should have.

Risks from the Public

Whether or not you believe “cancel culture” is a genuine phenomenon, it is difficult to deny that as social networking communities become more tight-knit and factional, there are more and more opportunities for a small instance of controversy to snowball into a full-blown public relations crisis.

A commercial account that is associated with a social media marketing campaign should rarely post anything that courts controversy. But even if you’re running such an account with the purest of intentions, there are innumerable circumstances that can get you into trouble. You may be branded as insensitive for an innocent mistake such as misusing a hashtag or clumsily expressing support for a cause, and then it can be a serious challenge to claw your way back into the good graces of the public or a given online community.

Social media marketing professionals can help you through that process, but they can also help you to avoid it altogether. Persons with experience in the industry should have a more finely-attuned sense of when and where innocent mistakes occur, so it can be advantageous to give them either direct control or some level of oversight over your posts.

When it comes to determining how far to go with this, you and your team will have to be honest with yourselves about your own communication skills, the sensitivity of your target demographic, and potential for your account to be visible in the midst of hot-button discussions on social media.

Risks from the Platform

If a planning session with your social media marketing team reveals that you’re at low risk for the effects of public backlash, it’s tentatively good news regarding your opportunity to control your own messaging. There are definite advantages to that, beyond the simple ego-boost that comes with knowing that you’re in charge.

Some consumers can still be expected to respond positively when it looks like a commercial account reflects the genuine personality of the person behind it. Once upon a time, that authenticity was central to the appeal of social media marketing – before it became so prevalent in everyone’s lives that organic interactions got buried under a lot of artifice.

Unfortunately, even if you’re confident that your target audience won’t react negatively to off-the-cuff social media posts, the overarching trends in the industry make it more and more difficult to be casual while avoiding consequences.

As we’ve mentioned several times on this blog, major platforms are trying to get ahead of the criticism they face for poor moderation and unclear terms of use. This has led to a situation where there’s growing danger of ordinary users and small commercial accounts being subject to overzealous enforcement actions, resulting in temporary or permanent loss of access. If one indelicate phrase can have that effect, there’s virtually no margin for error in your social media marketing.

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