Too soon? When content becomes crass

Mark Zuckerberg used the devastation of Hurricane Maria to show off his Facebook Spaces platform – putting content in the eye of the storm

“Alright everyone,” a chuckling cartoon Mark Zuckerberg begins, “we’re live in virtual reality.”

This week, the Facebook CEO posted a 10-minute video of himself with Rachel Rubin, head of social virtual reality at Facebook. Presented in VR, the two of them chat awkwardly about Facebook Spaces – a new video-chat platform where you (as a cartoon avatar) chat to other cartoon avatars. The unique selling point would appear to be the ability to “teleport” to other backgrounds, anywhere in the world.

So far, so typical.

But the first port of call for this teleportation? Puerto Rico.

Wrong time, wrong place

The video would be awkward in any circumstances, primarily thanks to Zuckerberg’s hosting ability. Tech genius he is, engaging performer he is not.

https://www.facebook.com/zuck/videos/vb.4/10104094186863501/?type=2&theater

The video drops clanger after clanger. The two high-five each other. Zuckerberg states, “Check out this interesting 360-degree video” and “One of the things that’s really magical about virtual reality is you can really get a feeling you’re in a place.”

Except there is nothing magical happening here to check out. This is virtual reality for the tech billionaire in his sprawling California headquarters juxtaposed with a painful, devastating reality for millions of people displaced and without basic aid and amenities.

Zuckerberg has now apologised for the tone-deaf nature of the video. Although, whether “I’m sorry to anyone this offended” is a worthy apology is up for debate.

When to get involved

Being generous, the intentions of the video may well have been honourable – a bid to increase empathy for a desperate situation and therefore encourage people to help. But the whole thing has the air of a misjudged, opportunistic PR stunt by a social network already under heavy fire for failing to take responsibility for what happens on its site – whether that’s the spread of fake news or personal abuse.

It’s a familiar issue for content marketers: when to step away from the sell. It should be clear when to leave an issue alone and when to add to the story, but it often isn’t.

In an age of large-scale turmoil, where every article or social media post can be perceived as political, how on earth do you stay out of controversy while remaining in the conversation?

It’s actually easy. And it’s a skill that marketers should have up their sleeves anyway. Good content is about human connections. It’s not corporate speak, business clichés or tech jargon. And maybe that’s where this train was derailed.

Where was the human voice in the room questioning whether this was a wise decision in the first place? It’s easy to see how this video might have done a good job at showcasing the horrendous situation, so why was the tone so relentlessly cheery? Where was the marketer putting their hand up and suggesting ‘high-fives and magic’ doesn’t seem like the right chord to strike?

There are plenty of questions to ask about Facebook’s editorial process but this doesn’t seem like the right time. You can donate to the Red Cross effort in Puerto Rico here.

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