Social media is still in its infancy as a marketing tool and, as you’d expect, many brands aren’t yet ready to take the stabilizers off yet. Last year there were some great examples of how to use social networks and social media publishing processes to promote products, content, and services. But companies can also learn how to do it right from those who did it (very) wrong.
Social media failures
Wrong move No. 1: Capitalizing on a natural disaster by using it to sell more products, promote your services, or advertise improved delivery rates or free shipping. This should be obvious; however, Gap, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters all recently posted promotional tweets trivializing Hurricane Sandy and using it as a marketing ploy.
American Apparel was already under heavy fire for its sexist advertising and well-reported lawsuits, so this latest debacle did the brand’s public image absolutely no favors. Gap made a hasty apology after deleting its insensitive tweet (which fortunately wasn’t as flagrantly promoting their wears as the other clothing companies we’ve mentioned, but obviously, it didn’t reflect particularly well on them). These calamities should teach other brands that the same levels of human decency and common sense need to be met online as they are in reality.
Wrong move No. 2: Duping your customers into engaging with your brand on Facebook. After new settings on the social network meant that brand pages would disappear from fans’ timelines unless they interacted with them, companies were quick to develop content that encouraged their demographic to engage — either via comments, “likes,” or shares — on Facebook without any other purpose or payoff for the fan, other than the interaction itself. This vacuous exploitation has been upsetting users for the last few months and has likely resulted in more of them unsubscribing to the brand’s page than it has in them taking more interest.
People aren’t stupid — they know when they’re being hoodwinked — so rather than duping your users into engaging with your company, create some content that’s going to be useful or interesting to them. It doesn’t always need to be purely promotional either. Specifically created content that engages your target audience for the right reasons is not only going to make them happy, but it’s going to encourage that all-important interaction that will keep your brand page in their timeline.
Wrong move No. 3: Putting your 20-year-old intern in charge of your social media campaign. It’s just posting on Facebook and Twitter, right? Wrong. Handling a brand’s online profiles is a nuanced practice that requires those behind the updates to know the company, its message, and its target audience better than the back of their hands. This was best demonstrated when British Member of Parliament Tom Watson’s intern posted a throwaway tweet:
The intern realized his or her mistake fairly swiftly and hastily apologized. But it shows how many people view social media messages as flippant, which they’re really not. Once you’ve put something out there into the digital ether, it’s very hard, no, nigh impossible, to take it back. And you can bet your social media spend that some wily web addict has got a screen shot of it. The Tom Watson episode also outlined the importance of in-house style guides for brand’s social media campaigns. Newspapers and magazines all have strict style guides to ensure every piece of content reflects their desired tone and communicates their overall message, and companies that are investing in social media need to take similar measures.
Wrong move No. 4: Take days off. This may be tough to swallow but target audiences don’t take days off and therefore neither should brands. Customers will be leaving comments and tweets in their own time, so it’s a good idea to have a dedicated member of staff who will check your business’s social media accounts in the evenings, over the weekend, and during bank holidays and be able to respond to any positive or negative feedback as soon as it’s posted. The best evidence supporting this was demonstrated by Odeon Cinemas back in August. A Facebook comment left by a disgruntled customer on a bank holiday Friday accrued tens of thousands of additional fan comments over just a few days.
And now it has a little fewer than 300,000 comments. There are more examples of fan rants garnering huge amounts of comments, which then inevitably makes them pop up in everyone’s timeline, and negative feedback isn’t the sort of promotional material you want to go viral.
Another brand that endured a similar fate but reacted to it in a totally different way was Bodyform, which brings us to…
Wrong move No. 5: Being afraid to hit back when your brand is called out on social media. This isn’t easy to do, and an extremely delicate tone needs to be used to smartly defuse the situation without alienating your brand fans.
Bodyform proved that it’s possible to respond to snarky customer comments with an equally intelligent, insightful, and sarcastic riposte.
When Richard Neill left the above comment it initially garnered thousands of “likes” and additional comments (admittedly, mostly from men). But instead of cower and hope that the negative publicity would go away, Bodyform replied with this brilliantly humorous video
The result? The video spread across the web like viral wildfire, with everyone applauding Bodyform’s witty retort — and I’d bet good money that its sales saw a spike, too.
Social Media campaigns and the day-to-day updating of online accounts is a learning curve; but it’s easy to avoid the mistakes we’ve covered above by carefully considering the content you post, using common sense, and investing in your customer base like you want them to invest in your company.
- Don’t, under any circumstances, use a national disaster or global tragedy to promote your company’s products. Post your sincere condolences, or go one better and start an initiative to raise money — donate a percentage of every sale to a charity or relief aid services that are helping those worst affected, for example.
- Develop genuine content that’s meant to engage your fans for the right reasons. The newest Facebook settings mean that your audience will have to interact with your company’s page regularly, which they will only do if you’re communicating correctly and about the right things.
- Employ someone with experience, not only in social media, but also in social media publishing and monitoring for a business. Draw up a style guide for your digital marketing so everyone knows where they stand.
- Keep someone on the clock, around the clock. Pay a social media specialist to check on your online profiles in the evening, over the weekend and on bank holidays. It won’t take long, and is well worth doing because customers appreciate being listened to and getting swift replies to their queries and grievances.
- Be witty, be inventive, and have fun. This needs to be carefully judged, but customers are humans and, therefore, love to see the human side of businesses. This can be as simple as signing off tweets with the initials of the actual person who’s behind the brand’s updates, or it can be as ingenious as the video message from Bodyform.
For more examples of brands that are making the right moves on social media and other content marketing platforms, read our Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples.
By BARRY COOKE