Sometimes, a social media exchange comes up that's just so great you have to share it. This week, there were several such exchanges included within the framework of a single event.
Just over a week ago, Target announced that they would be phasing out gender-specific signage and displays in some sections of their stores. From the official announcement:
"Right now, our teams are working across the store to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance. For example, in the kids' Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we'll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves. You'll see these changes start to happen over the next few months."
The news was not met with unanimous praise, it even angered some customers:
Anticipating such backlash, Facebook user Mike Melgaard decided to set up a fake Facebook profile posing as a Target customer service representative, using the name AskForHelp with the Target logo as his profile image. Melgaard spoke to Adweek about his prank.
"Immediately, I knew there would be your typical outraged American spouting emotional reactions on their Facebook page. After taking a look, I was literally laughing out loud at my computer. A few more minutes in and it struck me how hilarious it would be to portray myself as a parody customer service rep. So, I did just that, and the rest was history. Honestly, it was like striking comedy gold. Every one of these people gave me the ammunition I needed for a great response."
And some of Melgaard's responses were pitch perfect:
After sixteen hours, and about 50 responses, Melgaard's fake Target profile was shut down, but that was more than enough time to create a viral story (the AdWeek post referenced here has more than 167k Facebook shares) which highlighted Target's gender neutral move and the varying forms of opposition to the decision. Melgaard said that while he does support Target's decision, it was more about the laughs for him, as opposed to taking a stance.
The incident is yet another example of the need to for brands to be listening to social conversations and to remain aware of what's being said at all times. The concerning aspect is that it was so easy for Melgaard to pose as Target and field questions on the brand's behalf - and while Melgaard's answers here were light-hearted and likely won't do any damage to Target's reputation as a result, it could just as easily have gone the other way. Being aware of any such impersonation across the wider social sphere, especially for a big brand like this, is a large scale task, but there is a need to be vigilant and to ensure you're working to control the message as best you can - a brand's professional reputation can be sullied pretty quickly in the social media realm, word-of-mouth spreads faster than ever.
Setting up social media monitoring via tools like Mention or Hootsuite can help brands stay on top of the social conversation, which is the best way to keep ahead of misrepresentations like this - either would have picked up these mentions as they're public and include the keyword 'Target' (in this case, specifically, Melgaard has replied to questions posed to the official Target page, which would have made the comments very easy to detect if they were being monitored).
Another element of concern with this case is that Melgaard's responses were so good, and he's got so much attention as a result, that we're likely to see copycats try to jump on similar big brand announcements - it's definitely worth investing in social listening capabilities to ensure you're ready to manage any such homage, particularly if your brand is making an announcement which could be divisive.
But that said, Melgaard's prank was relatively innocent, and generally, pretty well received, even by those he responded to.
For their part, Target issued an official response to the prank:
"At Target, we are committed to providing outstanding guest service to our guests wherever we engage with them-in our stores, online, or on our social pages. Clearly this individual was not speaking on behalf of Target. Should guests ever have questions on whether a communication from Target is legitimate, we encourage them to reach out to guest relations at 1-800-440-0680."
But then today, Target posted this photo and caption to both their Facebook and Twitter accounts, which many are speculating is a sly nod in support of Melgaard's antics: