Ask Him What NOT to Do: Woody Harrelson’s Social Media Smackdown

Estimated reading time:
4 minutes

ORM and SMM Practitioners

Top takeaways:
• Know your audience; it’s basic but dangerous to overlook.
• Research an audience before speaking to them. Every online community sets its own rules.
• A well-defined brand will be able to respond to unexpected questions in a genuine way. Don’t relegate a brand to a box.

Know your audience. It’s a truism we assume every big name actor is familiar with. After all, their success depends on spectators buying into each performance. So how is it that an Oscar nominee forgot this basic tenant of the actor’s handbook? Did Woody Harrelson fall victim to apathy born of accolades and forget to research his audience before agreeing to this latest turn in the spotlight?

Unfortunately for Woody, he’d never before performed for an audience so unforgiving as Reddit, the Academy and north-nosed critics included.

As members of the marketing community can attest, knowing your audience is an important principle for more than actors. Unfolding in real-time, Woody last week demonstrated a major social media faux pas which could have been avoided had he followed the basic principle of understanding his audience when interacting with communities online.

Reddit Schools Woody on PR

Last Friday afternoon Woody announced he’d be doing an AMA, or “Ask Me Anything” ━ a Q&A format popular in the Reddit community where notable individuals offer to answer all questions.

Reddit RulesReddit is one of the most popular social sharing communities, with active and highly vocal participants. A quick look reveals a common lexicon and de facto etiquette. Upvotes move submissions closer to the top of the list so they’re more visible to the community. Images are like candy. Atheism is a favored philosophy. “TIL” is shorthand for “Today I learned.” Members subscribe to subreddits in order to focus on categories of personal interest. And comments generally unfold in a manner consistent with high schoolers in the quad.

Think what you want of it, but let’s be clear: when you’re a guest, you respect the rules of the house. When the dust settled, Woody and watchers came away with lessons that businesses and brands of all stripes can learn from.

Lesson #1: He tried to make the rules. Right off the bat, Woody struck out. When the first question accused him of having a fling at a high school prom, Woody said: “First of off, its not true, and second off, I don’t want to answer questions about that. Lets focus on the film people.”

As several commenters pointed out, Woody hadn’t signed up for AMAAR, or Ask Me Anything About Rampart. “You talking only about your new movie makes me not want to see it. Woody. Don’t waste us redditors’ time; do your research on Reddit first if you are going to do an Ask Me Anything.”

Lesson #2: He was too self-promotional. Online communities aren’t averse to promotions and marketing. People recognize that these present opportunities which allow them to get close to their favorite celebrities and brands. Your favorite artist comes out with a new work, and you’ll get to see them in the public eye as they work to promote it. It’s a give-take relationship we’re all familiar with. However, it felt like Woody wasn’t willing to give outside his own narrowly defined comfort zone.

Lesson #3: He wasn’t genuine. No one believed it was actually Woody answering the questions. Brands should treat their online reputation with at least as much care as the offline one, considering your online exploits are highly traceable and have a very long shelf life. Before you say anything, especially in a public forum, consider what you stand for as a well-rounded brand. Be prepared to go beyond the company line (in Woody’s case, beyond the subject of the movie) and give up some secret sauce. We’re all multi-dimensional. Offering access to only one dimension will earn a flat response.

Assuming Woody’s out a PR agency, I’ll give him some free advice.

Before you talk to Reddit, you should know at least everything in the article linked here. Brief highlights:

  • Redditors don’t take deception lightly.
  • The lifespan of a story on Reddit is quick, never exceeding more than 24 hours.
  • Redditors’ interests are exteremely broad and front page stories range from politics to technology to design and pop culture.

When performing for any online audience be sure to:

  • Research demographics and psychographics.
  • Identify personas or facets of the audience.
  • Speak to their motivations and values.

Know your audience is a simple maxim, but Woody could have benefited from an even more basic one: the Golden Rule. A little respect for his audience and last Friday’s fiasco would have led to more fans instead of fewer.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (2)
Filed under: Social Media Marketing
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2 Replies to “Ask Him What NOT to Do: Woody Harrelson’s Social Media Smackdown”

Poor Woody. He should have talked to Mark Hoppus on how to do a proper AMA….or you know….just know wtf it is in the first place. It’s a simple concept really.

Would’ve been a good place to start.


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