One of the most dangerous misconceptions in marketing and life in general -- let’s call it the “fallacy of utility” -- is the notion that just because you have a tool that does X, you should always be using that tool to do X, because otherwise you aren’t getting the full value of the tool. One variant of this is the old adage that when you own a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Just take a look at social media: marketers see a channel that’s “always on” and conclude, on that basis, that they should always be using it. But just because you have the capability to constantly be communicating with your followers doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut.
The latest smack-your-forehead-transition-to-face-palm social media disgrace comes from Epicurious, which used the occasion of the Boston Marathon bombing to flog cereal over Twitter. No, really: on Monday, shortly after the bombing, the Epicurious Twitter account tweeted: “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today,” followed by a link to a bowl of cereal.
There is so much wrong with this little tweet that it would take a dissertation to really unpack it, but here’s a condensed version. First of all, while some social media blunders happen because the practitioners are oblivious to what else is going on, whoever tweeted this clearly was aware of the moment’s import, because they started out on a sympathetic note before immediately segueing (or, not really segueing at all) into breakfast suggestions. Second, to the extent there was a segue it seemed to suggest that a bowl of healthy cereal could somehow serve as a balm to psyches scarred by an act of terrorism.
Perhaps worst of all was the inevitable retraction and apology from Epicurious, which tweeted, “We truly regret that our earlier food tweets seemed insensitive.” This is a variant on the famous non-apology apology, whose classic form goes something like, “I’m sorry that you are angry.” Although the tweets were deleted, it almost seems like the social media folks at Epicurious don’t actually think they were offensive.
Whatever they were thinking, it’s clear to me that Epicurious, like so many other brands before, fell victim to the mistaken notion that having a social media presence requires you to comment on everything that happens in the world, and (even crazier) that you can somehow draw a connection between whatever product you happen to be flogging and every newsworthy incident, no matter how disparate and regardless of context.
They say that discretion is the better part of valor. Put another way, this advice might read: keep your mouth shut, because no one wants to hear about your goddamn cereal right now.