As we approach the end of 2012, we begin to look back and discover that the lines between the online world and real life blur ever closer. It’s become a standard fact of life in these modern times that almost any action taken will have an online echo that someone, somewhere, will react to in a negative way. On the social web, everything is fair game, and brands have a responsibility to expect feedback for every public action they take. Several brands had some social media fires this year, but from the ashes, lessons can be learned.
Politics is Business
In the year of a Presidential race with an extremely internet-savvy constituency (on both sides), brands who took a political position (no matter how tiny) found themselves square in the middle of the debate on social properties and traditional media.
For some brands, the short-term controversy turns out to pay dividends in the long run, with better sales and public sentiment. Two major brands found this out by aligning themselves on different sides of the gay marriage debate. When Chick-Fil-A was at the center of the national debate, the brand found themselves under constant attack on social media. Negative tweets and Facebook posts were non-stop, parody memes and phony twitter accounts prolonged the damage. Despite the negative online campaign, the brand rallied around their beliefs, and saw more customers coming into stores to support the brand.
On the other side of this coin was Oreo, who posted a rainbow cream cookie on their Facebook page to show their support for gay marriage. The image was shared across millions of profiles and blogs, and also saw it’s share of parodies, threats of boycott, and coordinated online protest.
For some, it was a simple case of the person in charge of the brand’s social presence becoming “asleep at the wheel.” In September, Microsoft made a tweet with a blatant diss at well-known pundit Ann Coulter from their main account. This was posted by mistake by an employee, who Microsoft dealt with internally, and was deleted, but will live on in infamy. During one of the debates, KitchenAid found themselves in a similar situation, where an employee posted an offensive tweet towards President Obama from the brand’s main account, thinking it was their personal account. KitchenAid faced similar scrutiny, and publically apologized for the tweet.
Key Takeaways: Coming out in favor of a controversial position has consequences, and can draw attention that may be unwanted. If you are planning to leverage a political position to get exposure for your brand, expect fallout, and possibly national scrutiny. It’s also important to develop a policy for use of social media by employees, and safeguard against crossing the streams from personal posts that may damage the brand.
Some Things Are Just Plain Wrong
Unfortunately, the world saw it’s share of tragedy this year; with social media, the devastation and heartbreak felt by communities large and small was shared with a worldwide audience. Many remained respectful, helpful, and presented a feeling of unity with victims of tragedy. Some brands thought it would be a smart idea to take advantage of disasters, and quickly paid the price in the court of public opinion.
Shortly after the movie theater shooting at the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, the town of Aurora, Colorado became a trending topic on Twitter. A small clothing brand in the UK noticed, and without checking the reason, decided to use the hashtag to promote its items. The same morning, a tweet from the National Rifle Association with a subtle pro-gun message seemed to rub salt in the wounds of the community, even if it was well intentioned for its main audience.
After Hurricane Sandy touched down on the East Coast, two major clothing retailers seemed to ignore the devastation and keep business at the top of mind. American Apparel offered 20% off for those in states affected by Hurricane Sandy, in case they were “bored” by the storm. The Gap also encouraged victims to do some online shopping with them. Both brands were criticized on Twitter and lost a lot of face.
Key Takeaway: When taking advantage of trends or national news, be sure to be ethical and aware of the sensitivities of potential customers. Just as with taking a political stance, a controversial comment or attempt to hijack a trend will be magnified and exploited by angry internet users.