It can be hard, as a social media manager, to make the right call in the heat of the moment when looking to tap into a trending topic. Time is of the essence, especially on Twitter, where the fast moving tweet stream will flow by if you don't act straight away. This can be both exciting, as you get the flex your creative muscles in real-time, but also daunting, as one misstep and you - and more importantly your brand - will be criticized, ridiculed and help up as an example of what not to do for years to come.
We've seen this happen time and time again - from DiGiorno Pizza's #WhyIStayed tweet to Gap's Hurricane Sandy tie-in - and really, it's not hard to see why or how such incidents occur. More people paying attention and discussing a topic means more potential exposure, but most times, such incidents should simply not be seen as a marketing opportunity of any sort.
The latest 'brand fail' comes from Cinnabon who yesterday, following the death of actress Carrie Fisher, tweeted this.
Not particularly sensitive of the situation - while no doubt the social media team at Cinnabon intended this as a tribute, the branding and cross-promotional aspect of the message certainly gives the impression that they're using the news as an opportunity, as opposed to simply paying their respects.
What's more, Cinnabon has actually used this exact same image before - though their initial use was much more within the context of celebration.
The company has since deleted their latest tweet, but as you can see here, through screenshots and case studies, the slip-up will live on - which, for one, acts as a reminder of the need to double-check your content, to ensure you understand the trending topic and to realize your brand's place (or not) within that conversation. While at the same time, incidents like these also make other social managers more hesitant to tap into trending conversations for fear of misinterpretation.
To help you understand whether and when your brand should be using breaking news events in your social media efforts, here are three questions you should consider before hitting 'Tweet'.
1. Why is your brand commenting?
This is the first key consideration you need to assess - why is your brand commenting at all on this event?
If you're purely using this as a marketing opportunity, as a means to reach more people, then any kind of tragic event should be immediately off-limits. Using a tragedy as a means to get a few cheap clicks is poor form and will very likely lead to negative response.
If the news topic is directly related to your business or community, then commenting makes sense - and this includes tragic events. In many cases, if your business is directly impacted, then your community will be expecting a response - Star Wars, for example, has paid tribute to Fisher via tweet.
This is exactly how such events should be handled - the news directly relates to their business and is important to their community, and they've paid tribute without branding or commercialization. It's relevant, respectful and not designed purely for exposure.
If your business sells auto-parts, for example, commenting on this incident probably makes no sense - you'd be better off paying your respects via your personal profile.
Also, some messages shouldn't be 'on brand' - you shouldn't be looking for a relevant angle on tragedy. Lest you think Cinnabon was the only company that slipped up on this front, here are some other examples (via Michael Myers).
This, again, is essentially using a tragedy to promote your brand message, which is the same as adding your logo. It's best to avoid any such connotation.
2. Why are you using your branding on the message?
This is the next key consideration - really, you only put your branding onto images for promotional purposes, to boost awareness and recognition. Is putting your brand logo on this message really what you want to do?
As noted in the above example from Star Wars, there's no branding on the image, they're not using this as a commercial opportunity. This is where Cinnabon has most notably made a mistake, in using promotional content in a tragic context - even if well-intentioned, this is poor practice.
In some ways, I'd argue that Twitter has done the same with their tribute message.
Twitter's is more respectful, and it makes sense for Twitter to comment on breaking news, given the focus of the app, but the hashtag and logo does put it into questionable territory - through they've not been criticized in the same way Cinnabon has.
3. Would this be better suited to your personal profile?
Here's the real question - is this message coming from a personal place, or in a business-relative context?
If the event is related to your business, and is something your community will be expecting you to comment on, then definitely, you should do it. But it's worth questioning if this is a more personal response to the news, and should therefore be published via your personal account.
In almost all of the cases above, the news has very little bearing on their actual business. If the individuals posting those comments wanted to pay tribute, they could have done so via their personal accounts and avoided any issue - which then could suggest that the only reason for posting on the related brand accounts is for promotional purposes.
Tragedy is not an opportunity to expand your brand message. There are many light-hearted and less personally affecting news stories that brands can tap into and angle their message accordingly, but tragic incidents are not the right time or place to be boosting exposure.
A respectful, simple, non-branded message of tribute is a much better way to go, if you feel that it's an incident your business should be making a statement on.