Social Media Fails Brands Should Avoid

I keep telling people that when it comes to social media, you need to engage with your customers and be aware of current events.

From a marketing perspective it seems like a good idea to use things like local holidays or current events to encourage more real-time engagement with your customers, doesn’t it?

But not always. 

We need to be careful not to make the same mistake that American telco AT&T made last week, on a day that many people commemorate: September 11.

The problem is: it’s not exactly the best day for audience engagement, is it?

AT&T blew it quite badly when they posted a well-meaning photo Tweet last Wednesday – it was not well-received by a majority of its followers, despite not being meant as an ad.

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However, it was perceived to be a marketing message, which was what caused an explosion of negative feedback.

The company has since Tweeted an apology, but the damage was done.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with what was posted, but some people saw it as a form of corporate marketing and felt that it was in poor taste.

Which is why marketers who use social media need to keep these things in mind when it comes to social media:

1. Stay away from certain holidays.

Or special days, like 9/11.

On one hand, connecting your brand to such a day might seem like a way to show the compassionate, more human, caring side of your brand, it’s risky business.

Some days, people just want to remember quietly without any input from brands, especially input that might seem like you’re trying to use the holiday as a way to make your brand look good.

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As marketers, you need to pick your battles: decide for yourself if it’s a good idea to post something, or not. Success with real-time content often means knowing when to let things go.

Maybe some days like 9/11 are better off left alone for people to remember in their own way.

2. When you screw up, man up and apologize properly.

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Ever had someone do something that offended you, only to have that person slap you with an apology that doesn’t feel sincere? Didn’t that just piss you off?

Sometimes it’s the language you use.

Like when Esquire magazine ran the wrong image next to a story on its website… apologizing by telling people to “relax” was definitely not a good idea.

Their apology Tweet went: “Relax, everybody. There was a stupid technical glitch on our “Falling Man” story and it was fixed asap. We’re sorry for the confusion.”

The way it’s worded makes most people doubt the sincerity of the apology from the very first sentence.

Just keep in mind that when words are typed out, people can’t hear the tone of voice or gauge facial expressions…except in their heads. So it’s very easy – too easy – for misunderstandings to happen.

Be careful how you apologize.

3. Keep out of certain discussions.

Not every major cultural moment requires a response from brands.

Just because everyone is talking about Miley Cyrus and twerking, doesn’t mean you have to join in as well.

First, think about whether it’s a good idea.

Second, think about whether what you have to say will benefit you and your brand, and create the kind of engagement you want.

And if the event involves tragedy of some sort, then just like for certain days, maybe you should just express your sincere condolences and leave it alone.

4. Try not to use bots.

Automating your feed is one way to make sure you’re able to update constantly and still have time for other things. You line up your updates, and bots post it for you when the scheduled time comes. Easy.

The problem is, you won’t always know when stuff might happen… which would make your pre-scheduled updates suddenly seem rather tasteless in light of what just happened.

Many brands learned this lesson when the Newtown shootings happened last year, and suddenly their marketing posts and Tweets made them look heartless.

When you’re doing real-time content, people expect there to be real people behind your brand’s social media feed, updating things in well, real-time. They’re not going to excuse your use of bots.

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There are probably a million other ways to screw up on social media. Just keep in mind it’s not just about how quickly you react when things go wrong, but also how appropriately you react.

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