4 Guaranteed Ways to Tragically Fail at Social Media Marketing

How several small bad decisions can lead to tremendous failure.

After reading it once already, I recently started skimming back through “How to Lose a Battle”, a collection of epic military failures gathered and edited by Bill Fawcett. I came to the chapter relating to the Battle of Agincourt, in which Henry V succeeded in producing one of the most lopsided victories in military history. After many weeks of exhaustive fighting had whittled his already relatively small force down to approx 17,000 soldiers and archers, Henry’s army still managed to decimate a well-rested, well-equipped force of 60,000+ French Knights. How did this happen? Well, the simple summary is that the French general did everything possible to lose the battle. There are many parallels that can be drawn from the details of the disaster and applied to marketing in social media, and I’ve pulled the 4 most prominent of those to explain how you can easily produce a tremendous failure in the world of social media marketing:

#1 – Wait until the time is wrong.
    Henry’s forces landed on the shores of France 30,000 strong. They first laid siege to the port city of Harfleur, at which time the French Army could have simply marched up and sandwiched Henry’s forces between the French ground forces and the city, forcing the English to be attacked from two sides. But the French waited, and waited, and waited until every noble knight could be gathered in Paris. In short, they failed to recognize the urgency and left Harfleur to defend itself, without the support of the main French forces, and as a result the city soon fell to the English. After the city fell, Henry V left a small contingent in the city as a garrison, sent the sick and wounded back to England, and marched on with a force approx 20,000 strong, continuing his attacks against other French cities.

What to take away from that: When marketing in Social Media, don’t ignore small problems that can grow in to major problems. Any hint of customer dissatisfaction that goes unaddressed, any positive comment that goes unthanked, any question that goes unanswered simply gives your competition more opportunities to serve your customers in a better way. If something (ANYTHING) happens, be the first to have a presence in the discussion. Those seemingly ‘small’ issues can be the precursor to ‘large’ issues that are decidedly more difficult to manage later in their life cycle.

#2 – Say ‘no, thank you’ to valuable tools and resources.
    While gathering their forces in Paris, a group of 6,000 militia crossbowmen offered their services to the French general. They were promptly told ‘No, thank you, we’ve got this under control.’, and were sent on their way. The French army viewed them as ‘low-rent’ soldiers, hardly worth using in a real war.

What to take away from that: Free help? One more tool in your toolbox that you can call on when necessary? Always take it. If you want to learn about your customers or competition, you don’t just use one channel, you use all of them. See what’s being said on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and any other place you can find info and participate in each of them. Don’t ignore any of your available options for learning.

#3 – Be ‘too good’ to use certain tools.
    The traditional hierarchy of fighting forces was extremely ingrained in the social castes of the time. For example, it was generally accepted that a well-trained knight was a much more valuable and effective fighter than a peasant archer, even though that peasant archer could easily take out dozens of knights at a distance without breaking a sweat. That didn’t matter. What did matter was that archers were poor, lower class citizens, and knights were the elite. They decided the knights would be first in line, and the archers fell in behind them, essentially making it impossible for them to do their jobs. Oddly, archers were the most-feared part of the English army by the French, and yet were not viewed as a crucial part of the French assault force.

What to take away from that: Recognize the inherent advantages in each available tool, and use each of them to maximum effect. Twitter is different from Facebook is different from LinkedIn, etc. Trying to put all your emphasis on one channel and saying the others are just ‘not for you’ is a big mistake. Making assumptions about the options available to you without all the facts can be crippling. You can use each of them for different effects, each of which has an inherent value. Sometimes you don’t know just how far-reaching the effects can be until you try.

#4 – Disregard the basic environmental conditions.
    The ground was wet on the battlefield that day. Previous engagements with English archers had led the French to learn how devastating they can be to mounted knights, due to the lack of protection on the horses. The French general made the decision to have his army dismount and attack on foot, slowing their approach considerably, and quickly turning the wet ground to a greasy slop under the weight of thousands of heavily armoured French soldiers.

What to take away from that: Be aware of the current environment. Paying attention to how people talk, what makes them move towards you and what makes them run away. What kinds of things are impacting their opinions? The influencing factors aren’t always directly linked to your company or your competitor, but can be something as intangible as market attitudes or external economic factors. Being aware of the basic market conditions is essential to communicating effectively on what matters to your audience in the here-and-now.

So, as you can see, by simply ignoring problems, ignoring available tools, and ignoring basic environmental conditions, you too can have a social media failure as symbolically tremendous as the French loss at Agincourt. Although, by doing the exact opposite of that, you might find yourself on the other side of the spectrum. Of course, hindsight allows us to easily criticize but the reality is that each of those individual effects may have not been so tragic on their own, but when you combine them one after the other, they create the perfect storm of failure. The trick is to prevent those individual effects from occurring, so that the major disasters simply can’t form. Easier said than done, but by staying vigilant and learning from others mistakes, I believe it’s achievable.

What are your thoughts? Have you heard of any social media or marketing experiences where one bad decision after another led to a failure of epic proportions?