Today’s blog post is a guest post from Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey at Jilletante Creative. You can follow her on Medium.
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is awfully hard. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet and then having a company’s overseas social media team say something insensitive about it just adds insult to injury.
Not everyone is good at social media.
Not everyone has to be. If you’re an individual who just uses social media to keep in touch with your friends, there will be almost no consequences for anything you post, other than possibly offending a relative with your politics.
But brands simply cannot afford to be bad at social media. Especially when they’re paying someone to manage their online presence.
Exhibit A: the official Instagram account of the Philadelphia Injury Lawyers.
Philadelphia Injury Lawyers’ Instagram account has over eleven thousand followers, which sounds impressive until you consider how many of them were probably bought (or are probably bots — ha!). I first became aware of their Instagram account when they used a photographer-friend’s work without her permission or any kind of compensation. It turned out she was not the only photographer whose intellectual property had (ironically) been lifted by this law firm. After they blocked my friend for commenting to ask that they remove the photo, I called them out for stealing other people’s work and expected that I would also get blocked. But for some reason, they followed me instead.
The firm’s Instagram content is a collection of photos of Philadelphia that now at least seem to credit the photographers (I really hope that means they’re seeking permission from—and offering compensation to—the photos’ owners), with wholly unrelated captions:
- A photo of the skyline comes with a caption about Philadelphia’s municipal park system.
- A photo looking down at Columbus Boulevard, near the Delaware River, is accompanied by a caption mentioning the Rosenbach Museum, more than twenty blocks away.
- In a photo geotagged “Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy” that features a crescent moon behind three iconic Philadelphia skyscrapers, the caption discusses the Philadelphia Free Library, several blocks north and neither a skyscraper nor a Jedi training academy.
- Beneath a skyline shot, the helpful but unrelated fact that: “Over 60% of nursing home residents will fall each year.”
- The caption to a photo featuring the Comcast Center, currently (but not for much longer) Philadelphia’s tallest building, mentions that the Christ Church steeple was the tallest building in the city until 1810. This one is so tantalizingly close to getting it right that it’s infuriating.
I never saw any value at all in the content of the firm’s Instagram account — either for them or for me — so I didn’t follow back. But my account is public and I didn’t care if they wanted to occasionally like a photo I posted of the food I was eating or the animal that was at that moment sitting on my lap. Until this week.
After a brief illness that I wrote about here, my cat Simon (pictured above) died in bed with my husband and me this Monday morning. It sucked. It really, really sucked. But what sucked even more was looking at my phone that afternoon and seeing that, in response to my Instagram post about saying goodbye to Simon, the Philadelphia Injury Lawyers left this comment:
No, Philadelphia Injury Lawyers, it’s not.
In terms of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, to the wrong person, this is right up there with saying “I love you” to your boss as you’re hanging up the phone, or calling the wrong name in bed with your partner, or asking a woman if she’s pregnant basically ever.
I did not take it well. Neither, bless them, did my friends and followers:
I really do know some good people. My comments to Philadelphia Injury Lawyers, followed by a series of comments from my friends/followers—with more than a smattering of four-letter words—letting Philadelphia Injury Lawyers know that maybe what they just did was not smart.
Social media best practices dictate what when you fuck something up this badly, and you’re called out on it this strongly, you apologize quickly. Especially if your comment is about animals or children. Especially especially if it’s about dead animals or children. Philadelphia Injury Lawyers did not do this.
So, two days later and without any apology to be found, I decided to channel my grief and my anger and write an email to the address provided on their Instagram account:
Dear Philadelphia Injury Lawyers:
You follow me on Instagram. You started following me, ironically, after I publicly called you out for stealing photos from a photographer friend of mine without permission or proper credit. (Funny. As lawyers, I figured you’d know that you shouldn’t violate copyright laws on your official channels. Even funnier, that photographer friend is also a lawyer.)
I have never felt the need to follow you back. If I ever need a lawyer, chances are “they follow me on Instagram” isn’t going to be a motivating factor, and besides, your content makes zero sense. But still, sometimes your social media team, or the software you use as a proxy social media team, likes something I post. It has, until this week, been a one-way dialogue.
My cat died on Monday. In my arms, at home in bed. It was an extremely traumatic experience for my husband and me and I wrote a post about it on Instagram, sharing one of my favorite photos of our cat. I received dozens of sympathetic comments from friends and followers.
And then your social media team or bot posted a single word: “Dynamite.” You deal with people every day who have endured loss or are in great pain. Would you ever say “dynamite” to a client after they explain their grievous injuries to you? No. No you would not. So surely, you understand how extremely inappropriate your comment was.
I replied to that comment, as did several of my followers, pointing out the heartlessness of the comment as well as just how unprofessional and unbecoming it is, coming from your corporate Instagram account. (See attached screen grabs for the full sub-thread.) So far, there has been no reply. So I’m writing you today, and I will call tomorrow, and I will keep writing and calling to demand an apology from your social media team. Simply deleting the comment is at this point insufficient.
And as it happens, I’m a communications strategist with a long history consulting on social media, so if you’d like to talk to someone about creating a social media strategy that doesn’t include you stealing content from other accounts or inflicting emotional distress on grieving Instagram users, I would be more than happy to set up a meeting with you. My consulting fee is $xxx per hour, but in exchange for that apology, I’ll give you 30 minutes of my time for free.
I’ll await your response.
Was that last paragraph necessary? Maybe, maybe not. But I do genuinely want people working in communications generally, and social media specifically, to not suck at their jobs, because it helps to delegitimize and devalue all of our work. I have had clients refuse to consider investing in social media because they think that incidents like this are the exception, not the rule—they’re worried that by having a social media presence at all, embarrassing mistakes like this are an inevitability. And I’ve sent consulting proposals to people who didn’t understand why they should invest in my counsel when they could get someone overseas to “just do the work” (sans, of course, any strategic development) for a fraction of the cost through Fiverr or Upwork. Which is basically the reply I received eleven minutes later:
Sorry about that comment and for your loss. Our social media team is overseas and did not comprehend the content of the post or read the caption. We are taking steps to improve our team but at this time
its all we can afford. We will try to prevent such comments from happening again in the future. Hope you understand.
Resisting the urge to pull out my red editor’s pen and go to town on this email, let’s just look at two key snippets:
- “Our social media team is overseas and did not comprehend the content of the post or read the caption.” So, you’ve decided to hand the keys to your brand’s public presence over to a contractor who either has a questionable comprehension of the very language you do all your business in, or is too lazy to make sure that they’re engaging appropriately on behalf of your organization? Whether they didn’t understand or didn’t read is irrelevant. You shouldn’t hire anyone to act as an extension of your company unless you can be very certain they won’t embarrass you.
- “its [sic] all we can afford.” Is it, though? Say that I slipped and fell at the grocery store and decided to sue the store for negligence. I’ll need a lawyer. Say a friend of mine was injured in a car accident and the other driver’s insurance was refusing to pay their hospital bills. They’ll want a recommendation for a lawyer. Guess what? There is no universe in which I would ever use, or recommend, Philadelphia Injury Lawyers. By pinching pennies on your social media, you’re losing out on potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue because you’ve alienated potential future clients.
Not to mention the fact that you’re setting yourself up for a potential lawsuit—or even disbarment—by contracting with a company that has a history of stealing others’ intellectual property and posting it under your name. (And lest you should think it’s okay to share these photos without the artists’ explicit permission, I think the courts would say otherwise.)
And then, of course, there’s the question of how much value you place on your reputation and whether you can afford to see it in decline. My guess is, that as a personal injury law firm, your reputation is already mediocre. Surely you can afford to boost it a bit?
Facebook is fourteen years old. Twitter is twelve. Instagram, almost eight. There are countless examples of brands engaging well through these platforms. And more than a few examples of brands whose reputations have taken a major hit by doing it poorly.
Yet somehow, organizations still haven’t learned that social media is something they need to invest in. It can’t just be something they do. It needs to be part of a comprehensive communications strategy that takes into account what story the organization is trying to tell on its various channels, what voice to tell that story in, and who needs to hear it. Decisions need to be made about what kind of third-party content to engage with and when, whether to reply to comments publicly or via direct message, and who is monitoring all of this, at what times.
Sure, a cheap overseas social media contractor might be able to get (buy) you a lot of followers, but if none of those followers are engaging with your brand in a positive, productive, and meaningful way, your follower count means almost nothing…and in reality can keep you from investing where you really need to. It would be like me saying “I have over a thousand pairs of size-five shoes,” except that I wear a size eight, so even though I open my closet and all I can see are shoes, not one single pair will do me any good—and now I’ve spent so much money on all of these size fives that I can’t afford a pair of shoes that fits.
Whatever the Philadelphia Injury Lawyers spent on their eleven thousand followers and their 262 nonsensical photo posts that will never land them a single client, I can almost guarantee they could have spent the same amount on acquiring forty followers that could turn into warm leads.
This isn’t to say that you can’t hire an agency to handle your social media if you don’t have the budget to have an in-house social media team. But if you’re going to outsource your social media—or any of your communications—make sure you’re contracting with someone who backs the tactical day-to-day social media work with a thoughtful strategy, and who isn’t going to embarrass you or insult potential clients.
I was about to wrap this up when something on Twitter caught my eye:
A screen grab from Twitter in which the Philadelphia Injury Lawyers show they’re as bad at Twitter as they are at Instagram.
“Howdy!” said no native Philadelphian ever. “This content post,” which isn’t a thing, “couldn’t be written any better!” Are we talking about the tweet, or the link it’s referencing? “Looking about this post about Philly,” which is not technically a post about Philly but a post about a series of events happening in Philly, but you’re close, “reminds me of my previous post!” Which one? You don’t want to provide a link? Because all I can see is tweets where you copy-paste the lede of a news story or send a nonsensical reply to another Twitter user, including another one in which you compliment a well-written post that is, in fact, nothing but a photo.
So, is hiring a cheap overseas social media team worth it? I think the evidence speaks for itself.