Kenny Rogers once famously sang you’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. That lesson, it turns out, applies to more than just poker–especially when you consider a different type of folding and social media. The folding I’m referring to is not how to fold a t-shirt in five seconds, although that is impressive. Rather, I’m talking about metalsmith folding and the art of iterative policy making. If you’re unfamiliar with blacksmith folding I wouldn’t blame you. There’s a quick 90 second video showing the process but here’s a quick description:
- Heat up a piece of metal
- Pound on it to make it compact
- Create a small crevice in the metal
- Bend the metal back around so that it’s a squatter, taller block
- Pound on it until it’s back to the original shape
Blacksmiths would repeat this process hundreds or thousands of times. The most legendary swords in the world are rumored to have been forged from steel that was folded millions of times. The process has a purpose–by folding the metal over and over you ensured the most uniform piece of steel you could create. Uniform steel was stronger than a blade having strong and weak parts that would break under pressure. But the only way to get a blade that strong is to put it under fire and beat the heck out of it.
That’s true for social media strategies and policies as well. Your limits will be tested the moment you come under fire–keep going the same direction you were heading and you’re likely to make something break. But if you can perform your own folding, figure out the value you want to develop, then you can make something stronger.
A classic example of this is Amazon’s controversy back in 2011 over a Kindle self-published book (don’t kid yourself if you think Amazon in general and Kindle specifically are not social platforms–they definitely are, albeit with different interactions than most other platforms). The book in question was titled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure. Although the text of the book may or may not have been a guide on how to commit pedophilia, the title certainly read like one and the Internet had no problem judging this book by its cover.
When news of its existence first broke in November of 2010, outrage flew across social and traditional media. Amazon at first defended the book saying they did not believe in censorship and wanted to continue to sell controversial books. But the controversy continued and Amazon had a choice to make. Yes, they had a point in defending controversial books that others might be offensive, but they also had a large population upset that Amazon would make money off such a title. Within days, Amazon had pulled the book.
It’s fine to have a mission and a strategy before that gets tested, but to continue with it in the face of public outcry is a different decision entirely. There’s a famous quote that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Most people take the obvious meaning of the quote–once you’re in the battle then all your plans go to hell. But there’s another inherent reading–that even if you follow the plan to the letter, once you encounter resistance you are choosing to follow the plan for a different reason than why you made it. You have new information which makes for a new decision even if it’s the same outcome. In Amazon’s case, it led to a different outcome. But no matter the end result, shaping your direction under fire should make your strategy stronger. If it doesn’t, that’s probably because something just broke.
A more recent example of a strategy/direction coming under fire is the Kickstarter campaign for Above the Game. From the initial project description it appeared to be just a typical book about how to better at getting to know the opposite sex. If by opposite sex you mean women. The author said that about half of the content for the book came from essays he had posted on Reddit. The project went largely unnoticed (but successfully funded) until a blog post about 12 hours before the project closed pointed out some of the actual content on Reddit. The blog post does a good job of highlighting some of the more alarming content–this is not a happy, friendly dating guide but one that encourages behavior that probably shouldn’t be encouraged.
Kickstarter found out about the blog post two hours before the project was set to close and apparently lacked the ability to suspend the project–the decision was to either let it continue or cancel it there. They let it continue. But shortly after it was funded, and upon further consideration, Kickstarter posted a fantastic apology and said that entire genre of projects (seduction guides) would no longer be welcome on their platform. They pulled the project page but provided a link to the web archived version. They explained that they did not have the ability to cancel the funding once the project closed but that their preference to side with creators and the short time frame led to their bad decision–and they did say it was a bad decision. Kickstarter also announced a sizable donation to RAINN.
The apology seems to have worked–most press coverage has been favorable. The circumstances do seem favorable for Kickstarter since the project description seemed innocent enough but the actual content was not discovered until the last minute. But this kind of heat gave Kickstarter the opportunity to assess its own values and policies and make something stronger as a result.
So the next time your social media strategy or policy or terms come under fire, and they will, of course deal with the situation but also recognize it as an opportunity to create something stronger. Like metal, removing social media imperfections can only be done under fire. So get a thick apron, a big hammer, and be prepared for the process.