As 2014 draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on wins, losses and lessons learned. As a PR pro, one thing that shocked me in 2014 was the fellow communicators (who should know better) who made some of the biggest missteps in social media by sharing inappropriate and/or offensive content.
Whether from their personal accounts (Justine Sacco’s insensitive Tweet about AIDs in Africa and Elizabeth Lauten’s controversial comments about Sasha and Malia Obama on her personal Facebook page) or from a brand account (Dave & Buster’s Taco Tuesday tweet and Best Buy’s Serial podcast tweet), the folks who specialize in communications and social media made some serious blunders in 2014.
The social media sphere is still relatively new, and we experiment with content to determine what will resonate with the public and break through the noise to help support a company’s overall marketing communications goals. However, you don’t want to break through the noise for the wrong reason – because you’ll likely damage your reputation and the brand you are paid to represent.
So what can we learn from these missteps?
- Communicators are not comedians. When media training our clients, we advise against making jokes with reporters, as the joke often won’t work. Perhaps we should heed our own advice. Something that could be funny between friends may not play so well to the general public, and unless your brand is all about fun, like Skittles, ill-timed and inappropriate jokes can seriously damage a brand’s image. Which leads me to …
- Set or review communications guidelines. You should have a social media voice, messaging and communications goals set for your client’s brand – and all team members should be well versed on them. This will help your team determine whether the content supports the goals for sharing and engaging. Your guidelines should also outline what type of content you don’t want to share and how content is reviewed before it goes public. Which takes us to …
- Take a beat – and then get a second opinion. Before you post that hilarious tweet – think. Could this be offensive? How would this tweet read on the front page of USA TODAY? How would your boss, your client or your mother take it? And if you’re not sure, ask your team. At NST we have an internal quality control process so no less than three people – in addition to the author – see all content before the client sees it, and before it is published.
- News-jacking is often at the center of the biggest missteps. But also the biggest wins – like Arby’s Grammy tweet . But let’s take a closer look – Arby’s didn’t really news-jack. People on Twitter were already talking about the similarities between Pharell Williams’ Grammy hat to the Arby’s logo. Arby’s listened and participated in conversations already happening. Things take a turn when it is clear the brand is just trying to insert itself where it shouldn’t be – see SpaghettiOs Pearl Harbor tweet. There is no need for the noodle to talk about Pearl Harbor. Additionally the Best Buy tweet (see above) that joked about the very popular Serial podcast was viewed as offensive because Serial is about an actual murder of a young girl. So even though people were already talking about Best Buy, perhaps the topic of conversation isn’t one they should have joked about. Listening and then engaging is a great way to connect with your audience, but use good judgment.
- Hire people with good judgment and then train them. Experimentation is great, but you have to trust your team will use good judgment. Wonder why companies look at your personal social media profiles? How you represent yourself is an indicator of how you’ll represent the company. Though your Twitter bio may say “my thoughts are my own,” you still represent your company/their clients because if you make yourself look bad on your personal accounts you also make them look bad. When someone writes something inappropriate on their personal account, don’t you wonder why a company would hire someone who would say offensive things so publicly? And those thoughts that “are your own” could get you fired. At NST, each new employee and intern goes through internal communications training – and this includes social media. Trust your employees will use good judgment – but also remind them what “good judgment” means to you.
In social media, we get to watch people and companies experiment with a new form of communication in real time. Social media has changed the way we interact with each other and how companies can interact with the public – and it is endlessly fascinating, scary and thrilling. Here’s hoping we will learn from our 2014 mistakes, and though we want to avoid the big missteps, experimenting also brings some pretty amazing wins.