Social Media = Domesticating a Wild Animal?

All organizations now have some sort of a digital strategy and “social media marketing” as part of their plan.

It seems like a no-brainer – Facebook and Twitter accounts are free and we can use the interns and “young employees” along with a few extra cycles from the PR guy.  It’s Win-Win.  Free advertising.  No foreseeable downside, right?

Example For Your Review: A major college football program (Arizona State), and their conference which generates more than a quarter of a billion dollars per season (The Pac 12), learned the hard way that it isn’t always “Win-Win” with no downside.  The program recently had its pre-season “Pac 12 Media Days” and scheduled press conferences with Q&A for each team’s head coach, including ASU’s new leader Todd Graham.  “Use that interweb social media stuff to promote the event!” was the likely command from the 60+ year old university leadership to the underpaid 22 year-old running social media for the school, along with, “Do your Tweeter thing and get us some new viewers!”   The young social marketer thought it would be a great idea to get fans involved in the Q&A by allowing them to tweet questions directly to the coachvia the #AskASU hashtag during the televised event in front of a room full of media.  Well, what occurred was what is known as a “hijacking” – In this case, fans of ASU’s new coach’s previous team (the Pitt Panthers), took this opportunity to ask their former leader a “few” questions about the circumstances of his abrupt and unexpected departure last December.

You see, less than a year after being hired to a 5-year contract by Pitt (and unbeknownst to his employers), Graham took another job to coach the Arizona State University football team.  He informed his team and Pitt via a text forwarded to a Pitt football administrator.  Graham took a lot of heat in the national media, especially in football-crazy Pittsburgh.  Ridiculed during his 1-year Pitt tenure for his use of football platitudes like “high-octane offense” and panned for throwing his players under the figurative bus, there was no love lost between the coach and the Steel City.  He also called ASU his “dream job” after saying the exact same thing about his previous employer 12 months earlier.

The Twitter “question” queue was completely dominated by Pitt tweets and included:

Coach when you mentioned speed speed speed, were you then hinting at how fast you would be leaving Pitt? #AskASU

Coach G, you do realize that allowing transfers without penalty is only a privilege for Penn State students, right? #AskASU

#AskASU coach, what are your thoughts on having more wins than Joe Pa last year? Will you use that for your next dream job?

What genius catchphrase will you invent this year that’s bound to be taken so seriously by the students in Tempe? #AskASU

Coach, would you leave Penni if an opportunity for a “dream” wife came along? #AskASU

#AskASU so how do you feel about email breakups

Coach Graham, I know what it feels like to be unfairly vilified. You have my support. #AskASU #PennState#Misunderstood [Eds. note: That’s a fake Mike McQueary account.]


#AskASU Coach,aren’t you glad you don’t have those pesky Steelers hanging around YOUR cafeteria

Have you put your house on the market yet? #AskASU

Hey Todd, my grandmas cat passed away, can you text her the bad news. I dont have the heart. #AskASU

Coach Graham- How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop…or do you just quit licking and leave half-way? #AskASU

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Todd (aka Fraud) Graham: Did social media help get him labeled as “the devil himself?”

-Win-win?  No downside?  Maybe not.  This hijacking was so thorough that news outlets saw how high it was trending and wrote stories about it and the coach in question.  His status as a pariah and example of what’s wrong with college sports is now complete.

Trying to use social media to promote your company or organization is a little like trying to domesticate a chimpanzee or tiger… it’s a only a matter of when you’ll get bitten so think about the risks and prepare for the good and the bad that comes with this “free” marketing/PR.

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