There is a saying that’s been attributed to PT Barnum, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Barnum was a showman and circus owner, so he made a habit of promoting things that perhaps weren’t seen as good and wholesome, but they attracted attention.
On a tangent, Barnum was known for his menagerie of freaks, but what’s lesser known about him is that he was a member of the Connecticut state legislature and was an avid supporter of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which banned slavery. Barnum was an ardent supporter of the idea that all men and women were created equally.
That little tidbit of information always fascinated me about Barnum.
The idea was that Barnum was attracting all kinds of publicity for the weird and wild characters he would put on show during his circus. Much of the publicity was in fact quite negative, but Barnum always believed that the attention this created brought more people to his shows.
In fact, we talk about this phenomenon a fair bit in a modern context. We commonly refer to the idea that people can’t look away from car crashes and train wrecks. We’re drawn to the horror and the awfulness like moths to a flame.
And you see people doing this on social media all the time, but it’s become really bad since video has started to become more and more prevalent on Facebook. People flick on their camera and do the absolute stupidest stuff on a live stream without giving it a second thought.
They justify it by saying things like, “I’m being my authentic self” or “My audience enjoys it because they tell me they do.”
Let’s unpack those two things a bit.
First of all, acting like a douchenozzle on camera isn’t authentic. Making a sandwich and drinking a cup of coffee is “authentic” but it’s also really boring. Unless you’re one of those weird Korean people who prepare and eat their meals on livestreams while millions of their countrymen watch – that’s a thing and it’s unusual.
When you get up on your Facebook Live stream and start acting like a pork chop, that is the opposite of authentic, it’s contrived. You’re an attention seeking pylon. Don’t do that.
Does it “resonate” with some people, sure. If you’re interested in attracting no-hopers that find it enjoyable to sit on Facebook and watch you make a clown of yourself, then go for your life. But those people aren’t great customers in my experience. They are looking for a dopamine hit on Facebook and you’re giving it to them.
Now that’s where the second point bleeds into my first point – some of those muppets who have nothing better to do than to sit around and watch you make a fool of yourself also take the time to egg you on. They encourage your stupidity.
When I am making dinner and I do something silly like cut off a small piece of roast chicken and conveniently drop it on the floor so my dog can eat it, he eats it quickly and then rubs himself against my legs to encourage me to do it more. My wife doesn’t like it when I do this because she thinks it makes the dog sit around begging for food and she’s probably right, but the dog is smart enough to know if he rewards me for doing something dumb, I’ll keep doing it.
Your audience is doing exactly the same thing when they encourage you to light your farts on fire because they think that’s funny. They don’t respect you, they are laughing at you, not with you.
But let’s step out of the people already in your circle of influence who know of you.
If someone’s first experience they have with you is one where you’re doing something that is genuinely stupid and not clever, that’s bad publicity. They’re maybe going to recognize your name going forward, but they’re not going to think of you favourably.
I’m not saying that you need to be some weirdo who runs around trying to control the message “about your brand” all the time and not having fun, but if your intention online and particularly with social media is to drum up business, then my thesis is that you should endeavour to act professionally rather than say an adolescent on roofies.
Again, nobody is saying you need to have a sharp pointy stick up your bum all the time, but at the same time, nobody wants to do business with a character from Animal House.
So, in a nutshell, PT Barnum was wrong, yes there is such a thing as bad publicity.