What We Can Learn From the GQ Social Media ‘War’

Yesterday, Fashionista.com reported “One Direction Fans Wage Twitter War Against GQ Magazine.”

The quick story: Fans of the band One Direction didn’t like how GQ promoted the fact that the band members would be on GQ covers, so they bashed (and threatened) GQ on Twitter. GQ took the bashing with a good sense of humor (its responses made me and likely many others laugh), but the somewhat surreal Twitter “war” brings up a serious question about how best to handle sensitive (even seemingly irrational) social media situations.

The ever-so-slightly more in-depth story: 

According to the article:
Yesterday, British GQ announced that each member of One Direction would score his own cover of the September issue. You would think their fans would be excited to see their idols looking like scruffed-up #menswear hotties–but you would be wrong. You see, fans took offense to the quotes used to tease the feature story. So they did what any irrational teen-based fandom would do: They took to Twitter to hurl threats–lots of inanimate objects ‘up the butthole’–at the magazine.”

Fans mistakingly targeted the U.S. GQ magazine first, but then refocused their bashing efforts on the British version.

As cited on Fashionista, GQ’s social media manager Nate Erickson, was attacked personally, with Tweets such as: “@NATELY You should run for your f*!#ing life cause you messed with the wrong people. Please f*!# off and take your magazine with you.” (The f-bombs were omitted here—but not in the Tweets, just to clarify.)

What I found interesting was GQs’ (both the British and the U.S. editions) response to the Twitter war, or Twar, as I like to call it. As Fashionista explained, “GQ is taking these threats VERY seriously.” (I smelled sarcasm immediately.) It then quoted one of Erickson’s Tweets: “We’re working actively to identify the suspects, and we’ve got two of our best detectives on the case,” linking to this photo of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in detective gear.”

Fashionista also reported that “British GQ also has posted a list of some of their scariest tweets received.”

The U.S. and British magazines even Tweeted back and forth making light of the situation, joking that their magazines were both horrible and that’s “what makes them beautiful.”

I admit I laughed. I am one of the first to appreciate humor and sarcasm, and to wish people would get a life instead of lashing out over what seems flat-out ridiculous. Many, many people seem to jump at the chance to just be angry and attack someone. Anyone. Anything. And threats involving shoving a doll up someone’s “bumhole”? Really? Really? (Yes, I meant to write that twice.)

Personally, I would like to say, “Good for you,” to the GQ staff, and “thank you for making me laugh.”

But, professionally, it brought up an important question for media brands. When, if ever, is it appropriate to make fun of and even insult a fan base or potential fan base? Is minimizing the voices of and poking fun at critics, even harsh and threatening ones, a good idea?

Fashionista’s Tyler McCall, who wrote the article, thinks GQ handled the Twar well: “All social media hate aside: We suspect most of these #Directioners (like, uh, me) will still be buying all five covers. Social media: GQ Magazine is doing it right.”

And again, while I’d “like to agree, I wonder: Is it a good idea to prod an angry bear—a sizable group of bears, nonetheless—in a day and age where readers are not exactly easy to come by? Or in any day and age? Is this a case of any publicity is good publicity?

Internationally known social media and marketing guru Sundeep Kapur applauds the use of humor. “I like the way the ‘wrong’ GQ magazine handled the interaction,” he says.

And, while in this case, humor may risk making some enemies among the One Direction fandom, Kapur stresses that it can be an effective tactic for use in social media. “A few lessons for brands,” he says. “First, make your social media profile easily available on all your sites and messages. Next, make sure you monitor the conversation so you can respond. Third, think about leveraging some of your key fans into the conversation to speak on your behalf. Fourth, leverage the following and interaction from the other side. Fifth, maintain calm—and, yes, humor and charm goes a long way in making friends.”

What do you think?

Why does the Tsarnaev cover still matter?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t just mean the fact that, nearly two weeks after it was announced, Rolling Stone‘s decision to put Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its Aug. 1 issue is still making headlines (Senator John McCain said this week that it was “stupid” and “inappropriate”). Why, in an age when few people buy physical magazines at retail, or even see them for sale outside the checkout line, does our culture still react so strongly to what Rolling Stone chooses to display on the front of its print edition?

The easy answer is that Rolling Stone has long been a symbol of celebrity, hipness and youth. Getting your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone is a storied mark of rock celebrity, of making it big and, of course, buying five copies for your mother. There is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Rolling Stone cover celebs. This speaks to the enduring power of the magazine as a pop culture brand.

But there’s something else at work here. Vanity Fair tagged July 13-21 “The Greatest Week For Magazine Covers In Recent Memory.” Search “magazine covers” on Google, and there are dozens and dozens of recent news articles dedicated to who is appearing on what magazine cover and what (if anything) they are wearing. I’ll bet fewer than 10 percent of the people reading these articles will ever hold the print edition of those magazines in their hands. Yet there is an almost mystical quality attached to the idea of the cover. It matters little that it’s about as relevant as hot type to the search and social media-driven Web.

The media still needs self-generated symbols to help drive stories. We all still need benchmarks—the idea that somewhere, “out there,” is a fixed edition, a reference point around which we can focus emotion and mark change. Oddly, digital bits and bytes—what we once called virtual—is now the “real,” while actual print objects increasingly fill the role of a Platonic ideal. Yet another reason why print will never completely go away—and why the idea of the magazine will continue to hold power.