What Marketers Can Learn From Weiner-Gate

Brands, Too, Can Reveal Too Much in Social Media

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His name is Weiner! Ha ha ha ha ha!

OK, there. That's taken care of . Now let us meditate on the tiny part of this ubiquitous sexting story that has nothing to do with man-sausage jokes or abuse of power or even emotional pathology. Let's talk about the teachable moment: namely, that the most-savvy user of social media in the U.S. Congress, the poster child for Twitter politics, has in a week's time become the poster child for Twitter impolitics, mauled by the beast he had seemingly tamed.

Of all people. As much as anyone inside the Beltway, Weiner had used social media to build his brand. He isn't in leadership. He has no significant committee posts; he's essentially a backbencher -- but a backbencher who has made a big name for himself as a feisty, witty, partisan e-assassin. For reasons of faux comity, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is in no position to take nasty personal shots at Republicans John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Weiner, by virtue of being far removed from power, turned such sniping into a 140-character art form.

"It's a way to get my pith tighter," he's explained. Or, phrased a slightly different way, he had the luxury and the perfect medium for acting like a dick.

In the weeks before the scandal broke, he called out the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over last-second financial disclosures dumped on the brink of the Memorial Day weekend. (Let's review: for more than a decade #ConflictedClarenceThomas forgot nearly $800K on his filings); presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tweaking him about his health-care flipflop (Does Mitt's plan cover the care you need after you've tied yourself in a knot explaining yourself? #MittvsMitt) and Donald Trump for just being Donald Trump (On with Rachel tonight. Gonna talk about Trump eating pizza with a fork! #DudeYoureANewYorker!)

Meanwhile, along with all the smart-ass stuff, he used the same channels to discuss serious policy -- fielding voter questions about health-care reform, the Middle East peace process and the President's refusal to release the bin Laden death photos.

Between the substance and the snark, he styled himself as not merely an important Democratic voice, but as a legitimate aspirant for higher office. Speaker of the House was mentioned. And so, quite often was Mayor of New York.

As recently as March 28, Time magazine recognized Weiner among the "140 best Twitter Feeds":

The feisty Democrat from New York once told a Manhattan bar crowd, "I follow Twitter for the Tea Party and just show up to f--- with them." That was obviously a joke, but that same brashness and sarcasm comes across in many of Anthony Weiner's tweets. He's also able to upload pictures, demonstrates actual understanding of hashtags and isn't afraid to make fun of himself. I mean, just check out his profile picture.

Yes, the blurb takes on a little extra meaning under present circumstances. "Able to upload pictures" is the very skill that triggered his undoing. And even the profile photo -- Weiner's 1981 high-school yearbook pic -- seems now to have been less self-deprecation than a sly declaration of his own tragically arrested adolescence.

Thus he went from acting like a dick to acting out with one. Not because he was -- like so many of his colleagues -- overwhelmed with the mysteries of social media, but because he was under-respectful of them.

I've previously used this space to chastise marketers for being too corporate, too stilted, too impersonal in their social-media outreach. Weiner's is a cautionary tale of too little institutional dignity, too relaxed a voice, too personal exchanges. This should be a lesson to those who get too relaxed about powerful forces they mistakenly believe are within their control.

Remember Siegfried and Roy? Anthony Weiner is Roy.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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