Don't Be a Robot: How to Defend Your Brand Online

Worried that people are saying something negative about your brand? They definitely are. Here's how to neutralize online trash talk and actually strengthen your brand

Written by Mira Shenker

In a world of social media immediacy, you can’t instantly defend yourself against the harsh words some people inevitably will type about your company. What you can do, though, is cut them off at the pass.

The best example I can give you has to do with corn chips. Very few corporate social media accounts connect with consumers, because they come off as robotic and affected. The users these companies are trying to target see right through the gambit. Just try to post something positive about your product on reddit and you’ll get troll-shamed by any number of the forum’s regulars.

When a mystery Torontonian started @DoritosOntario to parody corporate Twitter accounts, he managed to do what Frito-Lay (maker of Doritos) never could: engage people. The 30-year-old former “digital strategist” is building followers and fans with tweets like “Social media is the perfect tool to engage w/ our consumers. But also a great place to tell you to purchase Doritos. Pls buy Doritos. Pls RT,” and “Do you feed your pets Doritos? Send us a photo, but please dont tell the police we told you to feed your pet Doritos. But pls take a picture.”

“Turns out people love their chip brands to be surreal, arrogant, reference rap lyrics, question their own mortality/existence, and be incredibly aggressive with their sales pitch,” @DoritosOntario told CBC News. (He insists he has no affiliation with the chip-maker—but who can be sure?)

Mountain Equipment Co-op should have followed @DoritosOntario’s lead as it tried to ease the transition to an updated logo last month. The outdoor clothing retailer removed the iconic green mountain and left just the “MEC.” The change is part of the company’s repositioning as a more urban brand, still serving the West-coast mountain climber, but also selling to downtowners looking for bike lights and down jackets.

Members of the co-op did not react positively— something MEC should have anticipated and met head on. Instead, @mec was sending out earnest tweets like “We are still confident that the new logo is in the best interest for the coop, but will always remember the mountain as well.” Meanwhile, an @themecmountain anonymous parody account was tweeting, “Out of a job and feeling a little down today… anyone wanna go drinking tonight?” It’s something MEC should have considered doing (though @themecmountain has been much less effective than @DoritosOntario).

Anticipating consumer reaction and addressing it in a straight-up, even self-deprecating tone is how brands need to communicate on social media. One company that has mastered the art of the “hit them before they hit you” campaign is McDonald’s. The company has been dealing with aggressive criticism as long as it’s been in business. The typical McDonald’s hater thinks the chain secretly owns a company called “100% beef” so that it can claim its burgers are made with 100% beef (a pervasive rumour that, according to McDonald’s, is untrue). Rather than trying to tell the upbeat, glossy story its older commercials did, McDonald’s decided it would let people point out exactly what it is they don’t like or trust about its food, and put those comments online. It then responded honestly. Apparently, the brand’s approval has skyrocketed as a result of the frank campaign.

These are all examples of big companies struggling to connect with customers. While SMEs lack the big brands’ budgets, they’re at an advantage in social media because they’re much less likely to be accused of corporate trolling. Don’t waste the advantage. Do something frank, weird, smart. And don’t let fear turn you into a robot.

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