February 25, 2022 - 10:41am

Right now, somewhere in Ukraine, there is a twenty-something social media manager who, amid all the wreckage and carnage, is being instructed by a content strategist to create shareable content on the country’s national Twitter account.

In a clear bid to appeal to young and western users, Ukraine’s official account has pumped out tweets like: “Tag @Russia and tell them what you think about them, “STOP SAYING UKRAINE CRISIS: THERE IS NO CRISIS. THERE IS A BAD NEIGHBOR (replete with a Simpsons meme),” and an appeal to Twitter to remove Russia from the platform.

Why — at the height of war — are we seeing these English-language memes and pleas to cyberbully Russia? Some people have suggested that there’s a Ukraine-native social media platform that people are using for more serious matters, and that the official Ukrainian Twitter account isn’t directed towards Ukrainians at all. They’re trying to grab American attention by using Twitter — and it’s working. After all, what was the story behind the sudden influx of photos of beautiful Ukrainian women holding guns not a month ago? Clearly, there is an agenda here.

Attempting to appeal to Americans is quite understandable. The US has, after all, the largest and most powerful military in the world. But what is strange is how Ukraine’s social media tactics are coming from the same playbook that brands have been using on social media since 2013, starting with Denny’s infamous Tumblr account. The playbook that instructs corporations to act like people, not companies.

Rarely do these corporations succeed, with examples running all the way from Netflix to Wendy’s to Twitter itself. Sometimes, brands will even engage in conversations with one another, as though they’re all a bunch of friends shooting the breeze online. But what companies — and the Ukrainian Twitter account — have realised is that the best way to gain clout online is to do so from the vantage point of a person. In other words, they want to sound more human.

One question remains though, and that’s why these attempts at digital personhood always seem so ham-fisted. I have one theory. I’ve worked in marketing for most of my adult life, and if there is anything I’ve learned it’s that content is rarely bad on purpose. That’s a comforting lie we tell ourselves to bat away the truth: companies and brands are that out of touch. Bad content happens because, in pursuit of virality, it becomes artificial. Usually, the process will go something like: a content strategist spots and forwards a popular meme to the social media manager, who will make it ‘brand-appropriate’ before sending it off for approval two weeks later (at which point, further edits take place to ‘better fit the brand guidelines’).

It’s therefore not hard to imagine Ukraine’s official Twitter content strategist saying to her line manager: “Last quarter, being sassy about Russia got the most engagement. Let’s try that again.”

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.