April 4th, 2014 by

As the world and Gwyneth Paltrow become ‘consciously uncoupled’, Mark Bonington explores the use of social media in business – and how to not make the same shutterstock_122722459mistakes.

There can be no doubt in the modern age that social media has done great things in terms of connecting people. We use it to communicate with friends, stay in touch with people around the world, job hunt, find dates and promote ourselves. Social media is the bedrock of “brand you”; that all-important entity which displays, not necessarily who you are, but who you want to be perceived as.

Social media is our own digital paint palette. What started as a workaday private-blue Facebook profile has expanded and grown at a rate of knots. Whether we’re on the Vine and Tweeting our thoughts, or creating a Tumblr of our favourite +1’s to share on WordPress, there is a social media network out there for everyone to use, create and express.

Because that’s what it is; for everyone. As in life, social media has a light and dark side. It is used to enlighten the world and make it a better place, while at the same time highlighting the unfairnesses that society can still suffer from.

Which is exactly the reason why the online world turned against Gwyneth Paltrow this week, when seven years of “holier than thou” attitude came crashing down after one otherwise-throwaway comment made during an E! Interview:

[Parenting is] much harder for me…I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.

Within minutes, of course, the mommy bloggers and angry working parents of the internet massed like a swarm of digital harpies, ready to chase poor Gwinnie down and shred her. The New York Post printed one of the best.

The problem is that Paltrow has already provided her detractors with the ammunition. Both her personal twitter account and GOOP, her lifestyle website, are a strange wonderland of dietary tips, fashion statements and general ‘wellness’. These may seem innocent enough, except Paltrow’s blog-cum-newsletter is tailored for people whose income matches her own. Her twitter is full of non-phrases and eyebrow-raising lingo. Gwyneth Paltrow does not get divorced. Gwyneth Paltrow becomes “consciously uncoupled”. Incidentally, she would also rather “smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin”.

And herein lies the problem.

Since childhood, as humans, we do not like being confronted with things we cannot have. Pearls of wisdom such as “I’d rather die than let my children eat cup-a-soup” and “put a wood-burning pizza oven in your garden” tends to rankle more than aid. As someone with both near-bottomless income and large portions of leisure time, these are, essentially, a well-masked, grown-up version of ‘rich kids of Instagram’. A charming, perhaps well-intentioned, series of content, which belies a sneering ‘don’t you wish you were me?’ attitude.

I never have, not have I ever met anyone who has, consulted GOOP when wishing to cook a recipe. I have never actually heard the website described, either online, in print or by word of mouth, as anything other than a seemingly-innocent standing joke. The words of an A-lister so wilfully far-removed from the hoi polloi that she can no longer conceive of a world where money is not an issue.

Which, for most of us, it is. A very large one.

The attacks on Paltrow that have swept across the world of social media from journalists, fellow celebrities and the average twitter user provide a valuable lesson to any user of the web, but perhaps particularly to the business owner. As, at the end of the day, that is what GOOP is. An online business.

And, by all accounts, I have no doubt it’s a very successful one.

But the ticking time bomb which has now gone off for Ms Paltrow is proof that attitudes such as hers are not part of the fabric of good social media community. At its heart, great social media is communication and discussion. It’s reaching out to the world with content that will move us in some way. Whether that’s to inform, amuse, question, aid or alert.

Anger is the simplest of all the human emotions to evoke. And as Paltrow is now discovering, it is a great ally in making a campaign go viral, but not always one you want.

Yet whether your business focuses on selling a product, or you are just a social media user working on “brand you”, learn from Paltrow’s mistakes. Just as hurling abuse or “trolling” at other users is wrong, setting yourself, or indeed your brand, above your fellow social media man is equally as questionable. You need them, and they need you. Speak to your followers, don’t condescend to them. Just as excessive swearing and bad language looks bad on a professional twitter account, so does having an attitude. Leave the elevated airs at the login page, and use those 140 characters to enlighten and entertain.

A great phrase I heard once while working in theatre was “when we sit on the toilet, we all do the same.”

When we sit down to drop a tweet, I like to think the same principle applies.

Even if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow.

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