In the seemingly never-ending quest to make a splash on social media, companies occasionally create some cringe-worthy posts that damage their brand and offend the people they’re trying to connect with.
I don’t need to barrage you with examples of posts or campaigns gone horribly wrong. A quick Google search will turn up more than you have time to read.
I’d rather focus on avoiding the pitfalls, and to do that, it helps to identify some of the most common ways companies step in it.
The Stretch. If you find yourself bending over backwards to be relevant in a trending issue or conversation, stop. If it’s not entirely obvious why your company’s voice needs to be in the mix, that’s a sure sign you’re trying too hard and getting out of your lane. Yes, you’re a (corporate) citizen and have a right to your opinion. But ask yourself whether it’s wise to wade into waters where others would seem to have a stronger, more justifiable perspective.
Capitalization. I’m not referring to grammar, here. I’m talking about companies that try to take advantage of something noteworthy happening in the world by using that something as a means for selling their product or brand. Somehow, despite there being so many epic failures in this arena, it still happens. Don’t cheapen whatever has captivated people’s attention by trying to use the occasion as a platform to sell.
Funny, Not Funny. Humor is tricky. Done well, it can humanize your company and endear you to the masses, or at least to the people who pay attention to you. Done poorly, and expect to be skewered. Some jokes bomb. Most jokes bomb. Stand-up comedians—whose job it is to make people laugh—toil for weeks, months, years crafting jokes that hit the funny bone without turning the crowd against them. And you’re going to try to lob out a quip on the fly that’s going to artfully dance on the edge of hilarity and decency? It’s fine to be funny, but it’s best to tread carefully. After all, heckling has become a national sport.
The Deep Fake. It’s tempting. You want to get people enthused about your wonderful brand or product, and you just need some people saying really great things about it. So, you enlist your employees, or people from your agency, or other folks within your circles to sing your praises or gin up support—except you fail to mention it’s your allies behind the curtain making all the noise. It would seem this shouldn’t be problem anymore. But sometimes it is. If in doubt, always err on the side of being genuine and transparent about who’s representing you.
Image is Everything. That photo or image you’re planning to use. Is it real? Did it come from a trustworthy source? Is that map of Russia you’re about to use current, or—oops—from the days when Russia encompassed some now independent nations (happened to a global beverage company trying to show adoption of product in Russia)? There are so many ways a photo or image could be something other than what it appears to be or have a backstory or latent meaning that runs contrary what you’re trying to convey. Lesson: be super careful about the images you show.
In summary, take a pause before hitting play. Think about what you’re about to do and the intended and potentially unintended reactions. There are enough forces working against you in this world. So, try your best to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds.