Why Brands Still Screw up on Twitter

Social media rules to live by: be fun, be creative€“but don't forget your judgment

Written by Rebecca Harris for Marketing

With roughly 6.4 million articles on “Twitter tips for marketers” out there, it’s a wonder some brands are still co-opting natural disasters, tragedies, political uprisings and sensitive events to sell stuff. Inevitably, inappropriate tweets that, say, align loafers with military action, or a bombing with a scone, are met with public outrage. The company then deletes the tweet and apologizes (or not, ahem, Kenneth Cole).

Read Epic Brand Meltdown: How NOT to Use Social Media

But with more than one way to push a product, why do brands think it’s a good idea to latch on to world events in the first place?

Martin Waxman, principal of Martin Waxman Communications and Digital Strategy, points to a trend in marketing called “newsjacking,” whereby “you see a trend emerging and figure out if your brand can fit into that, then sort of tie in to the story,” he told Marketing.

A benign example would be a make-up company tweeting about getting “red-carpet ready” for the film festival, said Waxman. A bad example would be Kenneth Cole tweeting: “€˜Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers,” as the U.S. considered military intervention in Syria.

Cole’s missive, which followed his 2011 outrage-inducing tweet that suggested the “uproar” in Cairo was caused by the Kenneth Cole spring collection, is just the latest example in the Really Bad Tweets from Brands file. On Sept. 11, AT&T tweeted (then deleted) a “Never Forget” message that featured the two columns of light at Ground Zero viewed through a smartphone. Last month, the Golf Channel marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by inviting its Twitter followers to share their “golf dream.” (Because nothing says equal rights like the sport of golf.)

Klout had to apologize for this tweet (and delete it) but it lost them some fans

The list of tasteless tweets goes on: After the Boston Marathon bombing in April, recipe site tweeted: “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!” And lest you think American companies are the biggest offenders, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last October, President’s Choice tweeted: “What’s scarier? Hurricane #Sandy or a beverage with marshmallow eyeballs?” The message linked to a Halloween recipe involving grapes placed in the centre of sliced marshmallows.

“The question is, why are so many marketers or brands making such bad judgment calls?” said Waxman. “One reason is speed. Twitter can be the equivalent of blurting things out and all of a sudden it’s there and it’s public and even if you take it down, suddenly that re-ignites interest in the story.”

The second reason is many companies want to appear “edgy, cool and hip,” said Waxman, but haven’t quite figure out the distinction between what’s acceptable and what’s offensive. There’s also the blame-the-intern factor€“chalking up bad judgments to inexperience.

But regardless of who’s behind the keyboard, it seems simple enough to avoid a social media disaster. Before hitting the publish button, keepers of the Twitter account might want to ask: “Is it really a good idea to align my scone/sandals/sport with this tragedy/political uprising/day of historical significance?”

“It’s great to have fun, it’s really good to be entertaining, it’s really good to be creative,” said Waxman. But don’t forget your judgment.”

Read 6 Powerful Ways to Use Social Media

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