If you read technology and marketing blogs or follow Twitter, chances are good you've heard some of the fuss about Sarah Lacy's interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at yesterday's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin. I spent the afternoon watching Twitter users unleash an absolute tirade against Lacy during the interview, which left me wondering what was going on. After having read numerous blog posts, news stories and watching several video clips, I realized what the fuss was all about. As always, there's something to be learned from failure.
In this case, that something is four valuable social media lessons. After all, what is an interview if not social media being acted out in real life? As I read the critiques and complaints on Lacy's performance as the keynote interviewer, I noticed many of the same mistakes I see popping up in poorly executed social media marketing campaigns.
With that in mind, here are four key mistakes Sarah Lacy made during her interview, each summed up with a valuable lesson you should take to heart before embarking on your next social media marketing campaign.
Mistake #1 - Not Being Interested in What People are Saying
It's interesting to watch the video clip of the interview at Austin360.com. Lacy's body language makes it pretty clear that she either suffers from RLS or spends most of the time Zuckerberg is talking waiting for her chance to talk again. She plugs her book multiple times and makes mention of her TV show. Lacy rarely looks interested in what Zuckerberg has to say; she fidgets almost non-stop, strikes quite a few "I'm bored" postures and generally gives off a fairly impatient vibe.
We see this problem repeated by companies online when they barge into social media sites in the hopes of selling rather than listening. They see social media as an opportunity to talk themselves up. To make themselves look witty, intelligent and "cooler" than the audience they're trying to reach. Companies often forget that social media (like an interview) is about fostering conversation and providing the opportunity for someone else to be the center of attention.
Lesson: Social media is about asking the right questions and planting the right seeds, then stepping out of the limelight and letting other people have the conversation
Mistake #2 - Acting too Familiar with Your Audience
Throughout the interview, Lacy made multiple comments designed to make it sound like she and Zuckerberg were old friends. She said things like "one thing a lot of people don't know about Mark" and "so you still do this, right?" preceding questions. On more than one occasion, she shared fairly embarrassing stories of the first time she interviewed Zuckerberg. Caroline McCarthy of CNET writes:
Lacy went into a mildly humiliating story about the first time she interviewed Zuckerberg and was surprised to see how socially awkward he was, and related that he'd said, "That's really hard" when she asked him to say more than two words at a time. It was the first of several "embarrassing story about another time when I interviewed Mark" anecdotes that Lacy went into throughout the talk.
This can work if you actually are that close with your audience, but it comes off as disingenuous when you do it with someone you aren't actually close with. Sure, Lacy has intereviewed Zuckerberg on multiple occasions, but it's not like they're best buddies. To many in the SXSW audience, it came off as condescending and rude.
Lesson: While social media is about being social, assuming too familiar of a relationship too soon can turn off your target audience.
Mistake #3 - Speaking For (and Over) Your Customers
One of the biggest complaints about Lacy's interview was how much time she spent talking. One highly blogged moment came when she spent several minutes talking about how Zuckerberg keeps hand written journals of his ideas for the company. She described the process in great detail, as if to lead Zuckerberg into conversation. Unfortunately for Lacy, she made the mistake of telling so much of the story there was nothing left for Zuckerberg to tell. When she prompted him to talk, he responded "Well you have to ask a question."
Zuckerberg's response got a huge round of applause. Quite a few bloggers reported audience members were buzzing at how frequently Lacy interrupted Zuckerberg while he was speaking. On one occasion she spoke right over him, then stopped, noting the look on his face.
Attendees were also upset Lacy didn't allow more questions from the audience. After all, SXSW attracts a fairly savvy, intelligent crowd every bit as capable of asking probing questions as a journalist. Had Lacy thought ahead, she would have used a service like Twitter or (duh) Facebook to gather up questions from people attending which would have ensured she'd be asking questions of interest to the audience.
Lesson: Listen more than you talk. In fact, listen a LOT more than you talk. Assume your customers know as much (or more) as you do.
Mistake #4 - Failing to Admit When You've Screwed Up
Lacy showed up on Twitter not long after the interview with this gem.
Shortly before writing this, I stumbled across a video interview of her on YouTube that was taken at SXSW after the now infamous interview. Listen to the tone of her response and the spin she tries to put on what happened:
Lacy makes a common mistake in that clip. She refuses to acknowledge she made a mistake and she spends time trying to spin the incident to place the blame on other people. She cites her credentials and experience over and over again, mostly in an attempt to discredit her critics and to convince the viewer she did everything right.
This is exactly what we see happen with many companies when it comes to their first social media screw up. When Sony was caught using a fake blog to market the PSP, their initial reaction was to try and deny the accusations. Doing so made them look even worse, because now the public saw them as fakers and liars.
I wrote about the need to own up to your social media mistakes back in my Hide and Speak series. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if YOU think you screwed up. If the audience thinks you screwed up, you did. Their perception becomes your reality.
Lesson: If the majority says you screwed up, you screwed up. Admit fault, apologize sincerely and work to remedy the problem.
When it comes to any type of conversation, be it a social media conversation or an interview of the youngest billionaire in the world before an audience of techies, it's essential to remember where the focus should lie. Stop worrying about talking yourself up and start worrying about how to spark conversation in others. Then sit back, be quiet and listen.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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