Today I’ve partnered with Dangerous Lilly, Formidable Femme and Red Hot Suz to create a multi-post guide to sex industry social media. Hopefully through these guides, new and old companies can be educated on how to maneuver through marketing sexuality in a professional way.
It’s no secret that sex bloggers are an outspoken bunch. Lilly recently wrote a beautiful post about how, underneath it all, #blogsquad is about our desire to make a difference. On the flip side, we’ve also been accused of being too quick to jump at someone’s mistake.
I think that empathy should, ideally, be at the forefront of all of our interactions with other people. Calling in – as opposed to calling out – is often a preferred strategy because it’s gentler, it’s respectful, and it can be more productive in many situations.
The Line Between Sharable Content & (Really) Bad Jokes
One of the most common social media gaffes across communities and industries is posting or sharing abusive or oppressive jokes. And I’m using the terms abusive and oppressive here because: a) plenty of people think the whole industry is offensive, b) I want to drive home the point that these jokes are not just distasteful — they’re harmful.
We saw this in 2015 with FiFi, the makers of a masturbation sleeve that looks like something your mom made at a Pat Catan’s Saturday morning workshop. They thought marketing that took aim at fat women was funny and would help them sell sleeves. What they got instead was an uproar, followed by retailers abandoning their sinking ship.
Recently, there was a scuffle with a brand that was requesting that customers submit short, homemade adult clips using toys purchased from their online shop, and offering “free toys” as compensation. They were already read for filth by Rayne, so I’ll rest my case.
Both of the companies above failed to bounce back, but there are companies that mess up, deal with it, and earn respect in the process. Once, Tantus shared an image with a bar of soap on a shower floor. Very quickly, people became concerned that this was basically a prison rape joke, which is definitely not on the sex-positive up-and-up. They dealt with it by apologizing and thanking those who pointed it out to them.
I think almost everyone has made a comment or a joke on the internet that they now regret, whether it’s because your values significantly changed, you found out your basic assumption was wrong, or you were called out on it. This is true for both individuals and brands alike. Good brands have learned from this in the past and changed their social media habits or marketing strategies.
It is not our responsibility to nicely call-in a company that has made an egregious error like tweeting a rape joke, creating an entire marketing campaign at the expense of fat women, or openly mocking a supporter of their own company because of her size. Those are things that never should have happened in the first place. They fly directly in the face of common sense and decency, and no one should have to inform a company of that fact.
But, there’s hope.
How Did We Get Here?
Ok, here’s the thing: Not everyone is trained in social media. Here’s another thing: Not everyone is politically savvy, empathetic, or clued in with your target audience. But that is precisely why you should be heavily vetting your social media manager.
Don’t just look at numbers – look at their people skills, the way their politics informs their speech and their humor, and whether they will truly represent your company’s values. If your company’s “values” include rape and fat jokes, then sure, hire indiscriminately… but don’t be surprised when there’s a backlash.
Social Media Best Practices for Companies
So, you want to do better? Or you want to head off these issues before they rear their heads in the first place? Awesome! I’m so glad to hear that.
First, clearly define your company’s values. I really recommend you sit down with your coworkers and employees and hash out a set of company values. Listen to everyone’s voice, here, too. Is your company made up entirely of white, cisgender men or women? That could be a problem if you’re not willing to educate yourselves and have some uncomfortable conversations about privilege. Also, try to expand your hiring pool. Bring in diverse consultants if you can make use of their unique skills. Pay them well and on time.
Once you have a set of values clearly defined, develop a social media strategy around those values. I don’t have space here to walk you through an entire plan, so I’m going to keep it simple: If it doesn’t fit with your values or contribute positively to your brand image, do not put it on the internet.
So, you’ve typed up a tweet, found a snappy gif to go with it, and then found yourself wondering if it’s going to cause a hullabaloo? Do. Not. Tweet. It. Get a second opinion, preferably from someone who doesn’t look or live like you do. I know that they say that all publicity is good publicity, but tell that to brands that have lost their distributors and carriers for their shitty social media practices. Yes, it happens. Your product is not good enough to make up for offensive social media practices, I can guarantee it.
Here’s one very important tip that too many companies ignore: Be inclusive. It’s not enough to just not be offensive, after all. In order to stand out and to gain recognition with people who can really help your product take off, you need to understand some of our community values.
There’s no reason or excuse to be cissexist or heteronormative. I will tell you very plainly that it looks bad. It looks old fashioned, and not in a cute Zooey-Deschanel-in-a-poodle-skirt kind of way.
“But SEO!” I hear you shouting. Yes, yes. I know about SEO, but that applies much more to your website or blog than it does to your social media. On social media, you want shareable. Content that is widely applicable – ie inclusive – is also widely sharable.
But ok, let’s talk about your SEO concerns and how they relate to inclusivity. You worry that if you don’t have categories like “for women” or “for men” or “for couples”1 then no one will find your site using common search terms. If you’re a brand just starting out, that can be really scary. You don’t want to disappear on Google, after all.
Here’s the bottom line: Excessive gendering of your products drives away groups of people with buying power. It also looks tacky.
But you don’t have to do that in order to be searchable. Labeling products by category is also highly searchable. The broad category of Vibrators can be broken down into several smaller categories, such as external/clitoral vibrators, internal vibrators, G-spot vibrators, and dual-action vibrators. If you are just itchin’ and desperate to sneak in some gendered search terms, hide them in your image alt tags. Those are still checked by Google, but they won’t be seen by your audience.
I’d also like to take a moment to say that I understand why some shops like to use “for women” as a category or to describe certain toys. It’s because women’s pleasure has not, historically, been seen as important, so claiming space for pleasure as a woman is important. Also, a lot of folks who are new to sex toys may genuinely think that they need to look for something “for women” or “for men”, not really understanding that those distinctions are actually much less useful than knowing what you want a toy to do, what body part you want to use it on, and how you want to use it. Still, I would encourage shops to move toward a model where we center what a toy can do (safely) rather than a binary view of who it was made for.
How to Move Forward
So, you made a mistake. You made a very public mistake. It happens. Depending on what it was and how you handle it, your company could still make it out okay. But the next steps that you take are very, very important.
First, apologize. Really apologize. The recipe for a good apology goes something like this: “I am / we are sorry for _______. We have learned from our mistake and appreciate those who took the time to reach out. This behavior will not be repeated in the future.” A good apology does not include words or phrases like “if you were offended” or “misinterpreted”. Saying “I’m sorry you were offended” is not the same as saying “I’m sorry that what I said was offensive.” The former is a non-apology.
Second, if someone reached out to you to inform you of your mistake, thank them for taking the time to do so, even if you don’t particularly appreciate their methods. Social media makes it exceedingly easy to delete, block, or ignore things you don’t like. When someone says, “Hey, you fucked up,” instead of simply erasing your presence, they’re giving you the chance to rectify your mistake and improve your image. Use it, and be thankful for it.
Then, decide what needs to be done in order to avoid repeating this mistake in the future. Now would be a great time to call a company or team meeting so you can get everyone on the same page.
Finally, if you’re stuck and you need some help, hire a consultant. Many bloggers double as industry consultants for company image, social media, and product development. No, we don’t work for free. Yes, we are good at what we do. Do a little research, or send me an e-mail and I would be happy to work with you myself or connect you with someone else.
You can bounce back from a fuck-up if you own it, apologize, learn, and grow.
The online sex toy shop market is relatively saturated, so you need to stand out in order to win customers. To stand out, you have to do things differently. Get our attention by showing us a commitment to ethical, inclusive retail.
The image featured in this post was sourced from PicJumbo.com.
- which is always used to mean cisgender M/F couples, as though those are the only couples in the world ↩