The “Spiral of Silence” in Social Media

Do you have an opinion about the economic gap between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken? What about gay marriage? Perhaps racism?

The “Spiral of Silence” in Social Media

I know I have an opinion about all three of those issues and so much more and I know you do too. However, a recent study from the Pew Internet Research Project reports that despite social media trying to foster communities, it has yet to break the barriers of open discussion about certain topics.

This so-called “Spiral of Silence” is a notion coined by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. (Don’t fall asleep on me yet!) The theory states that people in social media tend to step away from their own opinion and become silenced once a more dominant opinion presents itself. Basically it’s like high school all over again — where most would just agree with the popular vote and keep their mouths shut for fear of rejection. I don’t know about you, but I graduated years ago and I’m a grown adult with plenty of voice.

The problem with social media is that when you post or share something online, it is attached to your name and you might as well ‘wear what you share’ as a tattoo branded on your arm because it doesn’t leave you. No matter what field you are in or how little you think people are paying attention to your online footprint, if we’ve learned anything over this past decade, it’s that PEOPLE ARE WATCHING.

Remember the case of Justine Sacco and how one tweet brought down her career and reputation? I was very curious about the whole incident so I followed it thoroughly and while the tweet was extremely insensitive, a friend of hers said that Justine was relatively new to social media and noticed that the tweets that were “cheeky” got the most amount of attention. So Justine, in her own mind, thought she was doing just that but realized later there’s a difference between being cheeky and discriminatory.

The "Spiral of Silence" in Social MediaNow, what about a recent incident that took place at my alma mater, The University of Kansas? We’ve all had relationships, good and bad, but what about taking the bad to the interwebs? One guy did just that and found himself expelled from KU for tweets about his ex-girlfriend. The debate is whether or not the university can actually expel him for sending these tweets when they weren’t sent while he was on campus. In my mind, I’m thinking this all could have been avoided if people stopped using social media as their venting station or their personal diary. I have friends and family members to talk to so I never feel like social media is my only outlet. Perhaps this guy wanted her to see his rage though. Who knows but one thing is for sure, he’s in for a fight and it’s not just with his ex; it’s with the largest university in the state of Kansas.

So what’s the solution here — keep quiet from now on with any type of current event topic, ignore the hard-hitting issues for fear of rejection or quickly side with the masses?  How about none of the above? Yeah.

Don’t feed into this idea of the spiral of silence. Never lose your voice and certainly don’t let social media deter you from sharing it. We, as consumers, as a public, have MORE of a voice than we’ve ever had before so let’s not lose it. Big companies are listening to us and they are forced to listen to us because they are out there in the social realm with a reputation to uphold as well.

A great example is something pretty much all of us have had issues with at one point or another…I’m talking about airlines. Airline companies have bulked up their social media departments because as you can guess, complaints are “flying” in. (Thank you, I’ll be here all night.) Gone are the days when a company can expect to provide bad customer service and for the public to be left in the dark. The "Spiral of Silence" in Social MediaAdvertisers have known for a long time that the most powerful type of advertising is word of mouth and when consumers are not happy, they talk and they tell everybody. On the flip side, when service is really good, people talk about it too. Chances are you’ve seen a friend talk negatively about a company online and you thought twice about doing business with that company — that’s because word of mouth is stronger than any amount of dollar a company can pay to persuade you to trust them. Social media has helped level the playing field and we should not take a step back. Speak up, speak wisely and speak courageously.

The idea of social media still scares a lot of people but I urge you to just jump in and enjoy yourself. If you keep these simple rules in mind, you’ll be just fine:

  • Golden rule: never say something online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in person.
  • Don’t share inappropriate pictures — if you really have the urge, send them to a friend or to yourself. Get it out of your system!
  • Admit fault. If you say something without thinking it through and others react, admit fault when you’re wrong and move on.
  • Have fun and get involved in online discussions. You might make a new connection or friend and you may even learn something interesting.
  • Know when to step away from social media throughout the day. I get it more than most because I’m constantly checking my clients’ social media accounts but you can setup alerts/notifications and step away from it for the rest of the evening. Don’t let it control you.

Overall the same rules that apply in the real world, apply online. If you silence your voice and step away from hard-hitting questions, don’t expect change to happen. If you speak up and say what’s on your mind, you get the conversation started; the only difference is with social media, a lot more people can become exposed to your opinion and join in— that’s the part I thoroughly enjoy.

If you have any questions or want to vent, I’m here! Haha and I’m pretty judgement-free. Get out there, speak up and let’s change the world.

Photo credits: Gay marriageUniversity of Kansas


I have been doing B2C Digital Marketing for years and originally became intrigued with B2B practices years ago when I took a contractual position with a company. I see a lot of confusion from people online about the two so I figured why not clarify some of this confusion up. So here is where my research started with B2B marketing practices – My first day on the job at this firm, I did a quick scan of their social media presence and realized the company was missing out on some golden opportunities. It’s an oversight that I believe many companies make but after writing up a detailed report and reading “B2B Digital Marketing” by Michael Miller, I wanted to share some of the information I learned.

First, what do you think of when I say the term “B2B” (Business-to-Business)? Chances are you think of the picture below; one business trying to get another company’s business or one business interacting with another business.

In reality, it’s much more like this picture …with humans. We’re all human and we crave interaction. Buildings don’t talk to each other, humans do so build a relationship and watch that foster into increased traffic, new business relationships, etc.

Second, so I just treat business customers like my everyday average customers that buy my products? Wrong.

B2B Digital Marketing is different than B2C because customers make decisions based off emotion whereas business customers make decisions based off logic. It takes different approaches to appeal to a certain kind of customer. Think about your favorite fast food place. Ok, you’re healthy I get it but honestly just think about a quick fast food place you like to go. Now check out their presence on Twitter. Chances are you’ll see them interacting with their customers: retweeting, replying, “favoriting” tweets, and so on.

Now look at a company, like Pfizer Inc. on Twitter. You see the difference? Pfizer uses Twitter to inform their mix of customers about new clients, awards won, company information and Pfizer still does it with a sense of humor – #LetsGetOld. This is just one B2B approach to digital marketing because just as there are many different social media platforms, there should be different techniques for each one.  Unlike B2C where you are trying to sell a product or appeal to a consumer, B2B strives to create a long-lasting, beneficial relationship with other business customers by showcasing what their company can do for you.

Third, where do I begin? You begin by stepping away from traditional media and realize that digital marketing works in a way that traditional media can’t with B2B. Digital marketing allows for a two-way conversation which means when a potential business customer reaches out via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. you, the company, can respond back and create a conversational relationship. Sure, you may still find traditional media works for you but you can’t talk to a newspaper; well you can, but it doesn’t talk back – trust me.

B2B Digital Marketing is not going away so I encourage anyone interested in social media or digital advertising at all, to check out Miller’s book. It’s a great read and one strong statistic I want to throw out before I end this post is that “71% of B2B purchases started with a web search.” (Marketing Sherpa) That’s a strong figure. So if you’re a company and not targeting other companies with relationship-focused methods using digital marketing techniques, you might want to take a look at some of your competition because chances are they’re following this approach.

The $6 Million Dollar Tweet

Celebrity endorsements are used to enhance a brand’s image and can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $50 million and more. Beyonce’s recent Pepsi deal is one of the highest endorsements to date but there’s a fine line between paying a public figure to promote your product and stealing an image of a public figure who happens to have your product in hand – and then turning it into a promotional advertisement.

Katherine Heigl, an actress known for roles like 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth and Knocked Up, is the latest person to be caught up in a social misleading marketing campaign. Heigl was shopping at a drugstore, like people do, and when she was leaving with bags in hand from Duane Reade, the company saw it as an opportunity to promote its brand via Twitter.

What the company failed to understand was the line it crossed by turning a “normal” photo into an advertisement. Imagine seeing the below photo in a media publication with the caption,
Katherine Heigl signs deal to star in sequel to 27 Dresses entitled Get Married Already.

You wouldn’t think twice that Duane Reade and Heigl had any type of business relationship. Now take a look at really happened below:

Duane Reade did not pay Heigl or her agent or use the company’s marketing budget to pay for this type of promotion. Heigl is now suing the drugstore company for $6 million stating “unauthorized use of her image.” If your argument is that the picture falls into the category of earned media (a method of getting your brand or company into the media for free rather than having to pay for advertising), then you are wrong. Earned media is something you have no control over. Duane Reade took the photo and took control of what to do with the image.

Now if the photo had been used in a magazine or online publication for example, no harm would have been done. Duane Reade would have gotten some free advertising (earned media) and the company wouldn’t be in this current mess.

A smart brand will take time to research a public figure to make sure the individual is a right fit for the brand or company’s image. Likewise, a public figure should also do his or her research on the brand or company before being attached to it. If either side is uncomfortable, then a deal isn’t made. It’s quite simple but when one side doesn’t do their homework or takes shortcuts (cough cough, Duane Reade), you get in trouble.

Social media is quick, fun, and it can reach a wide group of people making mass marketing that much more effective when paired with social media. However, social media is still relatively new that some Engagement Directors, Social Media Executives and Community Managers don’t understand the tactics of proper social marketing. I encourage anyone remotely related in the field of social marketing to think of the consequences and don’t get sucked into the fast-paced nature of social media. So many companies have learned the hard way that once something is out there, it’s out there.

Three Big Brands Using Social

Social marketing is here to stay and it’s only going to get bigger.


People use social media for many reasons but in my opinion, the common denominator is a connection. The world is crazy, busy, always going but it feels good to say something or have an opinion that someone else can relate to or add to somewhere out there. The brands I’m going to talk about understand this idea but each one also has its own approach based on its purpose.

1.) Pfizer “Get Old” #LetsGetOld

No one likes to think of getting old. But why? In my opinion, we’re scared to talk about it. Ignoring or shying away from situations doesn’t make things better but instead it makes you anxious for what’s to come.

Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, came along and started the conversation in a non-intrusive manner. Not only did Pfizer get people of all ages talking about getting old but it worked with other leading organizations, like National Alliance for Caregiving Association, Men’s Health Network, Society for Women’s Health Research and more to help add to the conversation.

Pfizer isn’t pushing its products but instead becoming an authoritative voice (or thought leader) in the “aging” space. Sure, there’s AARP and other organizations dedicated to the more mature, but Pfizer included everyone in this campaign, used multiple touch points and lightened the mood around aging. Some examples of what people were saying range from “I want to stay healthy for my two daughters”, “I plan to get old with joy, strength and vigor” or “I want to get old having fun.”

Originally started by SS+K (Shepardson, Stern & Kaminsky) agency with an integrated approach. Current AOR: Edelman continues with its PR efforts.

Platforms: Twitter, Facebook

2.) Lowe’s “Fix in Six” #LowesFixInSix

Who hasn’t been picking up or cleaning when you thought to yourself, “Ugh, there’s got to be a better way to do this!”

Lowe’s, a retail home improvement store, showed us how we can turn every day items into problem solvers through video. BBDO worked with Lowe’s to create Vines (six second videos) and with the promotional hashtag #LowesFixInSix.

Some of my favorite tips include using a hair dryer to get rid of stickers on purchased items, lemon juice to get rust stains off knives or pillow cases to house your sheet sets.

Again, the company isn’t dominantly pushing its product but hopes to come to the top of your mind next time you think of doing some home improvement. And hey, if you need some home improvement materials why not head to Lowe’s? It’s a non-forced entry into our every day lives and it’s helpful information. Win win.

Agency: BBDO and Meagan Cignoli

Platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Vine

3.) Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts is a brand that is just doing it right all around. I remember my senior year in my Social Media in Strategic Communication class, we organized ourselves in groups to work on a final project. Each group chose a brand and created a mock social plan. While our group chose CPG (consumer product goods) and certainly noticed Dunkin’ Donuts in this space, we went with one of its competitors for two reasons: we wanted to show through our research that we acknowledged an area of weakness, had a solution and gave examples of execution. Plus we like a challenge.

I wanted to tell that brief story because Dunkin’ Donuts has the reigns of their social engagement from Facebook, Twitter, Vine, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and counting. What makes them stand out is the fun nature of its engagement.

Dunkin’ Donuts uses campaigns like any other brand would, such as #MyDunkin, but the personal or thoughtful posts of people sharing stories or experiences around Dunkin’ Donuts continues with or without these campaigns. Pictures of products, videos of recipes, and personal stories are just some of the ways the brand draws you in and gets you to take notice.

So there you have some of the top brands I’ve been noticing in social media. Remember to have fun with it!