Brands in Social Media Should Be Like George Costanza

When Traditional Tactics Kick in, Consider Doing the Opposite

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In a famous "Seinfeld" episode, George Costanza concludes that every instinct he has is wrong and decides to improve his life by simply doing the opposite. This starts with ordering a different sandwich, which leads to a date with a pretty girl and continues with splendid results.

What does this have to do with brands? To be clear, I am not directly comparing brands to socially awkward bachelors, but I do think they can learn from George. In building our business, we have observed that many of the instincts that have guided the communication and advertising of big, successful brands translate poorly into social-media initiatives. Brands are used to portraying themselves as shiny, larger-than-life entities that magically transform the lives of ordinary people. And when they come to social media, they attempt to continue this tone, which has served them well for so long.

In tangible terms (and I'm sure some of my social-media agency compatriots can relate to this) we often have long discussions about the approval process for Twitter or how to avoid negative comments on blogs. These are not silly concerns -- no brand should enter an arena and aspire to tarnish the reputation it has work long and hard to establish. Instead, I would argue, these are concerns that look at the problem incorrectly and reflect a desire to use social media to drive traffic without taking risks.

My prescription? Do the opposite. When your brand wants to avoid embarrassment, get comfortable with the idea that it could happen. Instead of approving every Tweet with a convoluted hierarchy, create simple guidelines and empower employees to use their best judgment, despite (or, perhaps, because of) the risk of mistakes. Convey passion.

This requires accepting a difficult paradox. For brands, becoming adept within social media is comparable to going to a series of parties. Many want to do a lot of planning (this is good; you'd certainly want to make sure you went to the right parties, wore cool clothes, had meetings with interesting people, etc.).

But a traditional marketing mentality would make a critical mistake here. That mentality would tell you to identify your targets, hone your message and then deliver that message across various channels effectively. When does this go wrong? To use the party analogy, it goes wrong when chaos arises. You introduce yourself and someone asks a question for which you're not prepared. Or you meet somebody and they invite you to a wonderful party not on the list. How do you adapt? Do you ignore them and go back to the game plan?

No. Remember, the plan was a guideline in the absence of perfect information. Instead, adapt, communicate and enjoy. You'll win lots of fans and they'll keep inviting you to new and better parties. And you'll keep doing the opposite.

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Reuben Steiger is CEO of Millions of Us.

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