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The #1 Social Media Practice That Needs To Go Away in 2014

With 2013 winding to a close, there are a lot of ideas for ways to improve social media campaigns and efforts generally in the coming year. There have been a lot of unique and creative campaigns over the past year that we can all look to for creative inspiration. Conversely, there is one social media tactic that deserves to boxed up and shelved with the rest of the holiday decorations, forever.

Brands Commenting on News, Holidays and Anniversaries

For some reason, marketers find it necessary to share the thoughts of the brand (usually a cartoon mascot or logo) on a breaking news event or historical anniversary. This sort of gimcrackery has become pervasive in the wake of the brilliant Oreo Super Bowl tweet that spawned a multitude of copycat memes.

epicurious tweet

The fact is, no one needs to know how Pizza Hut is remeniscing about 9/11 or how JCPenney feels about the most recent school shooting.

epicurious found themselves in the midst of a social media firestorm when they tried to newsjack the Boston Marathon bombing during a flash sale. Only after deleting the insensitive tweets and apologizing profusely did they finally land on the above tweet, which even on its own would have been completely unnecessary and disingenuous.

It isn't just breaking news stories that somehow trigger an insatiable need for brand comment. Historical anniversaries and other dates of significance have provoked sometimes clever, but mostly insipid posts. We all know how well that turned out for SpaghettiOs:

social media faux pas

In case you missed it, the SpaghettiOs account was roundly chastised for their pointless and tacky tweet, having eventually caught the attention of celebrities and comedians with vastly larger networks than the Campbell's Soup-owned sub-brand. Needless to say, the whole scenario didn't exactly move a lot of product off the shelves.

What Brands Should Do Instead

Breaking News: Nothing. Silence is golden, especially as tragedy unfolds. It's nice that the thoughts and prayers of your logo are with the victims, but no one needs to see their stream filled up with the sympathies of a brand. Consider suspending all scheduled tweets, especially if they're promotional or solicitious in nature.

Anniversaries: Do something if it pertains to your business. The SpaghettiOs tweet was stupid not because it was insensitive, but because there is no connection at all between that brand and the event they were commemorating. Is today the birthday of the inventor of the macaroni and cheese (Thomas Jefferson)? That's a great excuse for a fun campaign from Kraft or the like. Just put some thought into it before you circle that next national holiday coming up on the calendar.

A very wise human once said "Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." Social media is the best channel to put that maxim into practice.

What social media practices drive you crazy? Let me know in the comments below. 

Join The Conversation

  • DFlash's picture
    Apr 1 Posted 3 years ago DFlash

    I don't think these types of marketing will go away anytime soon. It's like the delicious bait that feeds on a hungry crowd of audience who themselves feel underappreciated in life. It's more like psychology and the brands who can understand their fans win.

  • Samuel Hum's picture
    Dec 23 Posted 3 years ago Samuel Hum

    My thoughts exactly, Merlin. I think some marketers feel the need to do something during events like these because they think that people will all be aware and sensitive towards it, and they can use this to their advantage. However, as you mentioned, these shouldn't be opportunities to advertise, but to connect with audiences. 

    I think it's important, in times like these, to not think about jumping on the opportunity to promote something, but to empathise with your audience and be tactful.

  • DaveEllis's picture
    Dec 22 Posted 3 years ago DaveEllis

    Yup. It's not a bad thing if companies decide to not tweet or post etc. in solidarity with something. But it's an interesting phenomenon of social that people look at it so differently than other media.

  • sashattuck's picture
    Dec 22 Posted 3 years ago sashattuck

    I managed a B2B account during the Boston Marathon bombings. We typically tweeted once or twice an hour about inbound marketing, social media, content marketing, etc. Shortly after the news broke, I tweeted that we would be suspending all tweets until the crisis was resolved. We did until it was, and the initial tweet generated a lot of positive response. I'm not saying that's what everyone should have done / should do, but that's what I did.

  • DaveEllis's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Davielli22

    Danny makes a good point: "Brands can't win - "Be more human", "Don't be so human", "You're being too human!"."

    I totally agree that brands should absolutely not try to capitalize on tragedies and their related anniversaries.

    But sometimes it seems there's a fine, or even invisible minefield. I remember on the day of the Boston marathon bombing, reading my #cmgr column in TweetDeck and how furiously everyone was judging brands that were still tweeting. They weren't tweeting about the bombing or about Boston... just their normal tweets... about *life* and business and etc.

    I'll never forget one commenter said "Any community manager who hasn't deleted all their scheduled posts should be taken out and shot! Turn off all tweets IMMEDIATELY!"

    Really? I noticed there were still TV shows and TV and radio commercials airing during the day of the bombing. I assume no one wanted television schedulers to be taken out and shot.

    Yes, the bombing was a horrible tragedy but seriously? The entire world has to stop? People still went to work. People still went to the store. People still went to movies. People still watched TV. People still went on dates and got on planes to travel etc. etc. etc. You have to shut down your whole business because of an individual event?

    Why is it that so many people on social media feel they have to connect themselves so deeply with everything?

  • Kelly Calhoun's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Kelly Calhoun

    This is actually a very interesting topic.  Usually, we hear that these would be good times because we get more activity thus opportunity for more business. I like your spin, point of view, and voice on the matter!

  • Danny Brown's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Danny Brown

    It's still people behind brands, and a corporate culture can go a long way to defining what customer base you get. Brands can't win - "Be more human", "Don't be so human", "You're being too human!". Plus ca change...

  • scalablesocial's picture
    Dec 19 Posted 3 years ago scalablesocial

    How funny is it that in the blog recap email, the blog post right above this one is, "10 Perfectly Crafted Facebook Status Updates for the Holiday Season"?

    The Spaghetti-Os tweet is awful, and I totally agree that usually in cases of emergency or disaster, silence is better than a comment. But like you said, if there is a connection - it can be appropriate.

    With major holidays, most brands will come across as clueless if they don't at least acknowledge the day. 

  • MerlinUWard's picture
    Dec 19 Posted 3 years ago MerlinUWard

    Great post and excellent thoughts, Ryan. I was actually working on a piece about this myself when your article came up. It's unclear exactly was is driving these bad brand behaviors, but my suspicion is that it's routed in the habits of traditional marketing. As you mention, marketers are trying to stay on top of the latest trending topic despite its relevance to the business or the context to the consumer. All for the sake of driving "health metrics" (likes, comments, shares), or clawing for sales, which is blatently abusing their audience in what are often emotional moments.

    These are not opportunites to advertise, rather, opportunites to connect with audiences (if applicable). There have been enough examples of the above that apolgies for this type of behavior will no logner suffice. 2013 is nearly over, and brand marketers need to get their act together. 

  • hailley's picture
    Dec 18 Posted 3 years ago hailley

    This is a really good point, brands have no place in announcing their thoughts on breaking news or tragedies. I think it would actually be better for them if someone well known on their team relayed the message, that way at least it is coming from a person. Although I have to agree that commenting on relevant anniversaries is a much better idea. 

  • betseyheidrick's picture
    Dec 18 Posted 3 years ago betseyheidrick

    I agree with you, Jason. Social media is too often used as a soapbox for brands to tout their wares or as another form of an eblast or billboard. This type of posting doesn't create any sort of relationship with the customers and makes brands look more or less like robots. Social media is--wait for it--inherently social.

    Facebook has been tweaking its algorithm to help [albeit somewhat forcefully by punishing poor content] steer brands away from marketing messages as content to content that is relevant and meaningful to consumers. 

  • Dec 18 Posted 3 years ago JLoCalifornia

    The practice I'd like to see obliterated is the use of marketing messages as content.

    At the beginning of the marketing meeting in which the messages will be thought up, the marketer's only goal is that the potential customer will have a positive feeling about the product or brand. After the meeting, the team has in its possession marketing messages 1, 2 and 3 that argue for why the product/brand is good. So what happens next? The goal of every piece of media becomes a quest to communicate marketing messages 1, 2 and 3 instead of understanding what kind of content potential customers would like.

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