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How to plan a social media campaign like an art thief

5 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I am pro art heist.

I know, I know — stealing is wrong. I know that; I do. I just happen to also really appreciate intricate, daring, transgressive acts with the potential for a huge payoff — or a huge disaster. I’d like to tell you I would have made a great criminal mastermind in another life — but the truth is that I’m way too much of a goody two-shoes. But I still marvel at the audacity of capers like the theft of a $250,000 Rembrandt drawing from a hotel in California last weekend.

Maybe that’s why I like social media marketing so much. At its best, social media campaigns are intricate, daring, transgressive acts with the potential for a huge payoff — or a huge disaster. If you’ve never looked at it that way, more’s the pity, because a lot of the potential of social media is tied up in being willing to think big and then plan small, just like an art thief.

Here are six ways social media marketers can take a page from the big book of art heists:

  • Dream big or don’t bother. Nobody ever steals paintings of dogs playing poker. Sure, bad art would probably be easier to steal — but good luck finding a buyer for it. Social media is no different. You can do the bare minimum of setting up your Facebook page and telling your customers they can now “engage” with you, whatever that means. But why go to the trouble? Unless you’re willing to actually put in the work to create something of value for your audience, they’re just going to ignore you — and then the tiny amount of time you were willing to spend on your social efforts will go for naught.  I’m not saying you have to develop a world-beating campaign right out of the box; but if you don’t at least start out with a big goal in mind, you’re likely to end up the proud owner of a velvet Elvis instead of a Rembrandt.
  • Know what people like. Art thieves don’t just steal works by artists they personally appreciate; they target artists whose work will sell. Otherwise they’d just be making work for themselves down the line. Art experts say Rembrandt’s work is the second most-likely to be the target of a robbery because he has a great deal of name recognition and his works sell for a lot of cash. Instead of focusing your social media efforts on your company or the issues that your company cares about, think about your customers and the issues that matter to them. Talk about subjects that have a great deal of resonance with your intended audience and draw a lot of attention. Otherwise you’re just making work for yourself down the line.
  • Remember that simple plans are best. One of the interesting things about last weekend’s heist is that the thieves didn’t employ any high-tech trickery. They didn’t even break in. They walked into an art sale at a hotel;  one person distracted the curator; another person took the drawing off of an easel; then everyone walked out before the hotel could put two and two together. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes.  The thieves didn’t make work for themselves by complicating the plan. Look at your social media presence. Is it more complicated than it needs to be? Are you wasting effort or taking unnecessary risks?
  • Sweat the details. Don’t mistake simple for easy. I’m sure it took a lot of research and planning to get all the details just right and then a lot of practicing to make sure the caper came off without a hitch. Are you adhering to social media best practices? Are you honing your craft? Or are you winging it and hoping for the best? The little things don’t seem very sexy, but when a social media campaign goes off the rails, it’s usually because someone got careless and sent a tweet from the wrong account, or something just as trivial.
  • Recognize you can’t control everything. There is no such thing as a perfect plan. Putting a plan in motion means involving other people and other people are unpredictable. The best plans take a wide variety of variables into account and allow for adaptability and improvisation once the ball gets rolling. Don’t set your program on auto pilot; that way you’ll be able to adjust when your viral video doesn’t go viral or when you get negative comments instead of praise.
  • Think about the day after. Law enforcement officials say that most art thieves get caught not while stealing their prizes, but when trying to sell them later. It turns out that the market for stolen art is somewhat limited. Similarly, too many social media campaigns focus on attracting a ton of fans and followers without any consideration being given to what the brand will do with these relationships once they’re formed. You need to have a plan for turning your acquisition into return on investment. Fortunately, the number of uses for a Twitter follower greatly exceed the number of uses for a stolen masterpiece. I guess staying on the right side of the law has its benefits after all.

Image credit: jorgenjacobsen, via iStock Photo