Social Media Can’t Put Lipstick (or Chapstick) on a Pig

Just last week, I wrote a post in AGBeat in which I called out National Car Rental for deleting posts from their Facebook page.  More disturbing than the fact that the posts were deleted was their Facebook policy, which states that they reserve the right to remove content that “…disparages, slanders, criticizes, or maligns National.”  In essence, angry people were posting comments and people were deleting them. This is not just bad social media policy, it is bad communications and business policy to blatantly avoid dialogue with potentially unhappy customers/campers.  And it is a sign either or organizational dysfunction, disempowered social media staff or both.

And right on cue last week, the brand Chapstick got involved in what Advertising Week called both a “social media death spiral” as well as “war against their fans.”  Ouch.

Ad Week has a very good summary:

ChapStick posts weird image on Facebook of a woman, backside in the air, looking for her ChapStick behind a couch. Blogger is disgusted, blogs about it. Blogger tries to reply on Facebook too. ChapStick deletes her comments. Others object to the image. ChapStick deletes their comments. ChapStick’s ads with the line “Be heard at” start to look foolish. Peoplekeep commenting. ChapStick keeps deleting. People get angry. ChapStick gets worried. The image isn’t even that big of a deal—it’s ChapStick’s reaction to the criticism that galls. “What asses,” people say of ChapStick (get it?). People start commenting about why they can’t see their old comments. ChapStick can’t keep up with all the deleting. Comments are getting through, and they’re nasty. (People who aren’t even fans of the brand can comment nowadays, of course.) ChapStick for some weird reason doesn’t just delete the image, apologize, or even acknowledge the issue, beyond its infuriating deleting of comments. ChapStick apparently thinks the whole thing will just go away if it can silence enough of its “fans.” Why is ChapStick so stupid? It’s not a total mess, though.

Same channel, same self-inflicted wound.  A major brand asks people to “like” them, follow them, interact with them, adore them and then when things turn ugly (or just plain weird), the conversation goes out the window and the dialogue is censored.  (“Be my friend!  Except when I don’t want you criticizing me.”) And yes, both companies got busted, lost credibility with fans and were taken to the social media woodshed.

The real problem

These examples are not solely social media problems.  They are not solely communications and public relations problems.  They are organizational problems gone public. Any brand that wishes to be successful or even taken seriously should have a social media head/evangelist who is empowered to make good decisions using social media channels – and smart enough to do it.  But more importantly, this individual needs to be empowered to veto stupid behavior when it is suggested by people who don’t understand social media – like censoring comments and then stonewalling.  I am operating under the assumption that both National and Chapstick have competent heads of social media who were shouted down, outvoted or vetoed with this idiotic behavior.  Censoring where you have invited dialogue and you will get busted.

So operating under the assumption that the social media people or agencies are competent, both of these situations suggest that there are larger organizational problems within the brands.  You don’t put someone in charge of directing a bunch of engineers who is a librarian.  Nor do you counteract the (again, supposedly) good advice from your social media evangelist –  who knows what will happen.

My final point is best illustrated by a story that I love to tell.  When I was in the agency world, our firm was retained by a gentleman who was the head of a company who apparently had a crack cocaine problem. He was arrested a couple of times, but the most recent (when we were hired) was because he was caught (literally) with his pants down in his car with a prostitute and a crack pipe between them. I drew the short straw and flew into the city to meet with him.  In our first meeting, he railed about how the local newspapers were out to get him, how his good name was being defamed and said that he needed an agency to help him solve his “Google problem.”  Potential business partners were Googling the name of his company – that carried his name – and finding articles about his arrests and other embarrassing episodes.

In one of those “I wish that I had kept my mouth shut but had fun not doing so,” when Mr. Client was finished blaming the media, bloggers, his competitors and Google for his troubles, he asked me for my advice on how to solve his search engine optimization problems.  Most people would have salivated at the billable hours required to get his booking photo off the first page of Google.

Client:  “So are you going to help me solve my Google problem?”

Me: “Mr. XYZ, I can’t help you solve your Google problem until someone helps you solve your drug problem.”

Despite my smart-ass remark, the comment seemed to cut through the clutter in this man’s mind.  We got hired.  He never paid us, but that should be in the “duh” category.

National Car Rental and Chapstick do not have “Facebook problems,” or “social media death spirals.”  They likely have organizational structures where the social media people who really know what to do are not empowered an in charge.  THAT is likely the real problem.




  1. I am struck dumb with amazement how often the issues within organizations are usually down to one person, department or small group of people committing foibles that sometimes entire teams or companies are hired to clean up, instead of facing the root problem, such as your Mr. Client.

    The best part of this article was your insight into the fact that what looks like a social media failure may often just be a reflection or magnification of a pre-existing condition in the company.

  2. Mark Story Says: October 31, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Thanks, Tinu.

    I gave a lot of thought to this before writing, and books like Maddie (pimping: Humanize) got me thinking about human-driven processes and decision-making chains of authority.

    I really do think that, in major brands, either social media experts or agencies tend to do the right thing or at least want to, but are overruled by stupid people higher up who don’t understand the consequences of their actions.

    My nirvana is that someone at National or Chapstick reads this and thinks “he figured it out.”

  3. Don Fanucci Says: October 31, 2011 at 11:09 am


    Sounds like you’re ghostwriting about the problems where you work!

  4. Mark Story Says: October 31, 2011 at 11:16 am


    I can neither confirm nor deny.

  5. Mark- nice points. Saw the Chapstick nonsense last week, thought the “Death Spiral” headline was well over the top, as were many of the tempest in a teapot comments. Whatever happened to Suzy Chapstick, anyway? Could be time for a comeback. She could definitely manage the storm better than the agency or internal that was doing it last week.

    Whether or not you will validate writing from personal experience, it SOUNDS like you are….and we all can identify with being managed by someone who knows all about “The Facebook” because their wife has an account and shows them pictures.

    Bright people in corporate making solid decisions. If only.

  6. Mark Story Says: October 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks, Jeff.

    Good guess.


  7. […] On his intersection of offline and online site, Mark Story offers his analysis of two recent events involving major brands and their Facebook pages. It’s pretty interesting reading and I like his take on them: Social Media Can’t Put Lipstick (or Chapstick) on a Pig […]

  8. […] bigger influence than previously predicted. As social media evangelist Mark Story says in his blog Intersection of Online and Offline, these issues are not simply social media, communication or even public relations issues – these […]

  9. […] bigger influence than previously predicted. As social media evangelist Mark Story says in his blog Intersection of Online and Offline, these issues are not simply social media, communication or even public relations issues – these […]

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