Social media marketing remains an unpredictable field. One can never tell what will go viral and what will fall flat. Nevertheless, if we can't always tell what will take off, we can learn from the mistakes of others what we should avoid. Here are four of this year's worst goof-ups.
Let me give credit where it's due. Search Engine Journal ran an infographic on this topic. If you're still wondering why getting your social media marketing right is important, consider this: getting it wrong can give your company a major black eye and cause a lot of damage to its reputation.
The first firm I'm going to discuss – and my personal candidate for clueless company of the year award – is American Apparel. They launched a special campaign in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, encouraging people who were bored during the storm to purchase from them and offering a 20 percent discount. Right. And just how were people who had lost their electricity (at best) and perhaps their homes, possessions, and in some cases loved ones (at worst) supposed to shop online? Even if they could shop, Hurricane Sandy's victims surely had much more important things on their minds. Search Engine Journal noted that the “Twitterverse exploded in disgust.” Lesson learned here: don't try to cash in on a national tragedy. It makes you look worse than insensitive.
The London Olympics deserve a mention for its rule 40. This rule prohibited athletes from allowing their “person, name, picture, or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.” Here's an article that briefly explains why this is a problem now, even though it's been part of the rules for many years. The modern twist on this rule means athletes can't even mention any products in their social media, including tweets and status updates. Lots of Olympics participants were less than happy about this, and many campaigned to change it. What lesson can you learn from this? Don't try to dictate what your customers talk about, because “social media is about freedom,” Search Engine Journal explained.
That point is worth keeping in mind as we come to this year's third object lesson: Waitrose supermarket. The store tried to open a conversation on Twitter by asking people to complete the phrase “I shop at Waitrose because...” while using the #WaitroseReasons hashtag. Never ask that kind of question unless you're prepared to get some very...interesting...answers. Waitrose boasts a reputation of being a rather posh market, so it wasn't long before the Twitterverse took hold of the hashtag and pranked a bunch of answers, most of them expressing some variation of “I shop at Waitrose because I don't like to be surrounded by poor people.” Possibly to Waitrose's credit, the company admitted that they found most of the tweets amusing, and there seems to be some dispute over whether the campaign was really a failure. Either way, according to Search Engine Journal, you'd best keep in mind that a social media campaign “is a logical continuation of your general marketing efforts.” If you already have a particular reputation, users will react to it on social media – for good or ill.
Finally, a company with a much less posh customer base also stumbled in social media this year. I'm talking about McDonald's, of course. They tried to get Twitter users to post happy stories about Happy Meals using the #McDStories hashtag. Well, McDonald's paid Twitter to promote the tag, but pulled it two hours later – and it kept gathering steam. Why? Twitter users took advantage of the tag to report their McDonald's horror stories. The campaign failure prompted Forbes staffer Kashmir Hill to coin the term “bashtag” for what happens when a company hopes that users will spin a Twitter tag associated with them in a positive way, and it goes horribly wrong. Search Engine Journal uses this story to once again hammer home the futility of trying to control the social media conversation: “Social Media is spontaneous. Always have a retreat plan for force majeure.”
That may be a lot to absorb with the holidays so close -- but here's hoping your social campaigns in the new year don't stumble the way these did. Good luck!
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