What the Twitter Takedown of an American Poet Can Tell You About Content Marketing

by | Sep 9, 2019 | Uncategorized

A hatchet job on a poet, even a well-known one, is a little like Icarus falling from the sky. Like the painting, the world is busy living during the incident – heading to the market, tending the sheep, even fishing, while Icarus’s legs splash in the water unnoticed. A poet falling from the sky gets about the same amount of attention, except we have something that Pieter Bruegel didn’t have, the Twitter amplifier. 

An academic Twitter war may seem about as distant from digital marketing, as, well, a 14th century painting, but it can tell small businesses a great deal about their own content marketing campaign and how to use social media.  

How the Poetry War Started

Less a war and more of a digital execution, it all started with words. This summer, Bob Hicok wrote an essay called, “The Promise of American Poetry.” The comments on the site incited strong feelings. Many readers suggested it honestly explained a cultural zeitgeist (albeit a poetic one), while others said Hicok’s success undercut his argument. 

Timothy Yu, a scholar who also has a book of poetry, wrote a response to Hicok’s essay, called “The Case of the ‘Disappearing’ Poet.” His counter to Hicok is a lot of ad hominem attacks. It wouldn’t have gotten much attention anyway, except that Hicok is famous (as famous as poets can get) and Yu posted it on Twitter (then got a few of his friends to respond to it). Now, a few coastal people are seeing the thrashing of legs, but, like with Icarus, no one is doing much about it. 

What the Poetry War Means for Your Marketing Campaign

Many people have been hurt in the aftermath of this, as with any social media takedown, but there’s also much to learn here. Here’s what your small to medium business can learn from an academic hatchet job on one of America’s leading poets. 

Create a Strong Digital Presence 

Conventional wisdom tells you to pick a social media platform that suits your brand and work from there, but the poetry war tells a different tale. One reason Yu’s article was taken so quickly for truth is that Hicok isn’t on Twitter. 

With no counter to his narrative, Yu’s followers assumed he was right (because even academics don’t always read the articles). It’s easy to takedown a poet (or a small business) who doesn’t have a digital presence. 

You don’t have to be active on all platforms, but you should have a social media strategy in place to address all of them. We’ve also seen the opposite of what happened to Hicok – small businesses get tagged on Twitter (sometimes by famous people), and the businesses never even know it happened. They can’t leverage positive publicity or protect themselves from criticism. 

Get Ahead of Negative Attention

Takedowns happen frequently on Twitter because they make for good marketing. Want a name for yourself? Be vocal about it. Unfortunately, negative attention still earns the most attention. Takedown pieces earn plenty of clicks; if your business ignores a brewing Twitter storm, it could hurt your social media marketing campaign – especially if you aren’t on Twitter. 

Remember, too, that you don’t have to answer anger with anger. Even an “I’m sorry this happened; how can we help?” can go a long way to protecting your online presence and digital marketing strategy. 

Own Your Branding

Some poets were great at branding, even before it was a thing. For instance, if you Google “nature poet,” Wordsworth pops right up. He owns that brand. He would definitely have been on Twitter (especially since his sister was likely the one doing the actual nature writing). 

Both people involved in this war, however, have made it tough to find and support them. The name, Hicok, is an unusual spelling of a common name. Timothy Yu has a different issue – just at a quick glance, there are about six people with the same name. Both these writers could use a method for people to find them and support/counter either side. If only there were a way to do it. 

Just kidding – that’s why the hashtag exists. When controversy strikes your brand, find a hashtag for your supporters that fits with your brand. Your marketing campaign can attract negative attention if you invest in a strong branding strategy early on. 

Why Poetry Matters to Content Writing

The marketing industry is a mixed bag of careers. Few find it by getting a business degree. The content writers on our team are novelists, poets, and memoirists. In the gig economy, none of us are one thing. Poetry, unfortunately, has been held hostage by the academic community for too long. Bob Hicok represents something that makes many academic poets shake – he was a poet first. It was his success as a poet – a poet whose message hit with people beyond just the college classroom – that led him to the classroom. 

Unlike men like David Brooks and Bret Stephens, crying at the Twitter cloud that prevents them from being the loudest voice in the room, Bob Hicok explains how great the world can be without him. I hope we don’t have to experience that quite yet. There’s lots of room. The world of novelists and nonfiction writers can share their success outside of academic circles. Here’s hoping that poetry eventually can, too.  



Kimberlee Henry