10 Things Online Marketers Can Learn from Charlie Sheen

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The word you're looking for is wow. No matter how up-to-date you might be in the continuously unfolding circus that has been the Charlie Sheen show the past few weeks, you know the buzz he has generated. For better and (more often than not) for worse, Charlie Sheen has captured the attention of the online world with an intensity and endurance very few others have been able to accomplish in the social media age.

The question is, how has he done it? And more importantly, how can we learn from it? Here are ten ways, five aspects of brilliance and five disastrous missteps, that online marketers can learn from Charlie Sheen.

The Good

1. He is absolutely, undeniably unique

There are two kinds of people in online marketing: those who follow the trends and memes and those who set them. Market research will tell you what everyone else is doing, but it takes someone who is truly different—and spectacularly so—to get people to follow.

2. He makes his own buzz words

Contrary to what the tidal wave of chatter might indicate, not everyone is glued to every monitor, iPad, and television in their houses trying to soak in every second of the Charlie Sheen circus. Part of his genius is creating catch phrases and expressions that have infiltrated the social media discussion even among those who prefer to look away from his personal train wreck. Winning. Tigerblood. Warlock. These and other expressions are part of the discussion. Part of everyone's discussion. These bite-size emblems of the Charlie Sheen brand are everywhere.

3. He's winning even if you think he's a loser

Reality check: Charlie Sheen just lost his job. He lost his publicist. He's an embarrassment to his family. He probably suffers from serious mental health issues. But he refuses to accept defeat with any of it. The message from Mr. Sheen: I'm winning. Denial? Totally. But the confidence of pronouncing he's high on himself is intoxicating. People can draw their own conclusions, but his self-obsession is, quite frankly, attractive to the human eye. He believes everyone has to watch, and apparently he's convinced the world he's right.

4. He's everywhere

Name a medium, Charlie Sheen has been on it. Radio, TV, Web streaming, Twitter, TMZ, network news. Repeat. The man has been everywhere. He made news with his over-the-top rants and even wilder exploits, but then he took full advantage of the attention when the opportunity arose. It was a full-scale, cross-platform assault on the public consciousness, and it gave him actual selling potential immediately (his million+ follower Twitter feed is already sponsored).

5. He maximizes anticipation, even when the media is saturated with him

With the help of a savvy social media agency, Charlie Sheen got his Twitter account verified almost instantly. He was raking in followers by the hundreds of thousands before issuing a single tweet. That move in itself made him king for a day (and another day, and another, and . . .) on what is probably the most socially active platforms in all of social media. Suspense builds in real time on Twitter like no other site, and Charlie Sheen manipulated it more expertly in one day than anyone ever has.

The Bad

1. He's burned bridges

Was ruining his working relationship and trashing his former boss Chuck Lorre essential to Sheen's crazy-train ride to sensationalistic superstardom? Not necessarily. Today he was officially fired by Warner Bros., and in the long run, he can't sustain a career that way. He has established irreconcilable differences with more influential people than most celebrities ever create in a positive fashion. That's not a technique you want to emulate.

2. He has hurt his loved ones

Most importantly, Charlie Sheen has probably endangered his children, at least sufficiently so to be issued a restraining order and seeing them removed from his home by the police. There is no positive spin to be placed on child endangerment. With any publicity stunt this personal and revealing, people close to the person in the spotlight will receive their share of negative reaction. A shrewder marketer (and saner individual) would shield the people in their lives much more carefully.

3. He doesn't know when to stop

The publicity hasn't all been good, obviously. But the sheer volume of publicity,especially in social media outlets that get very touchy about seeing their timelines saturated with unwelcome content, Charlie may have gone too far. Unlike the Old Spice twitter phenomenon that very carefully withdrew from the scene while the audience still wanted more, Charlie Sheen has left his audience simply wanting out.

4. He's hurting himself

Charlie Sheen is unstable. Whether he's acting on his own or as part of a bigger publicity machine is irrelevant. The man needs help, and not the social media kind. Any time a marketing scheme involves exploiting someone with significant problems, an agency runs the serious risk of disenchanting their entire audience—or retaining only the cruelest customers. In social media, you have to have a conscience.

5. He has left himself with nothing to build on

Charlie Sheen doesn't have an exit strategy for the charade he's playing. The sideshow has been entertaining for awhile, but where's the next step? Where is the longterm sustainable business model? He's capitalizing on the here and now, but when this mushroom cloud fades into fallout, he's going to be left with little but toxic collateral damage. The conclusion of Charlie's stint on Warlock Island will make the Lost finale look perfectly neat and tidy.

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