How Brands Should Express Themselves on Social

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It’s hard to know when to jump into a conversation at a gathering, particularly when it’s a somber one.  But the best marketers are learning that fostering a close relationship with customers in social media now means learning to know when to jump into a conversation…and when to leave it.

Social media has been part of the societal fabric for several years now, so norms have certainly begun to form. That also means that many of the lessons held are tied to societal expectation rather than commercial.  Therefore, marketers must keep abreast of how a story unfolds and treat customers with the emphathy they’d show in everyday life.

In Times of Mourning, Connection Must be Natural

One clear factor to consider is to not oversell your product or service. Chevrolet was brilliant with its tribute ad to the artist Prince, who died earlier this year.  The ad featured a 1963 Corvette Stingray, a nod to the singer’s hit, “Little Red Corvette.”  The choice of an older model Corvette rather than the current generation on the market kept the ad as a tasteful reminder rather than a straight product push.  

Ironically, two companies in Prince’s home state Minnesota, 3M and General Mills, were criticized for their tributes, an image of 3M’s logo in purple with a tear and General Mills tweet of a purple message “Rest in Peace” with a Cheerio substituting for the dot above the letter “i”.  Critics felt both messages were too commercial in tone and inappropriate for the moment.

Focus on Issues, Not Just People

Social issues are a part of life. Sometimes individuals do get involved in the debates surround those issues.  Given how social media can push a debate in unexpected directions, marketers must examine their organizations’ perspective on issues rather than specific people, and then take a stance when necessary. 

Engaging in some controversies can be an acceptable risk for a company, depending on its reputation among its customers. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream took a public stance on police brutality, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  To date, sales have not been adverselt impacted—in fact the brand’s reputation of making social statements (such as in its open letter to President-elect Donald Trump) has kept its progressive customer base engaged with the product.  By identifying with a cause, they found a way to galvanize customers who support the same values.

But Respond To Negative Issues About the Brand

President-elect Donald Trump mentioned the candy Tic-Tac in his comments during a 2005 video of a private conversation during which he was caught on a hot mic speaking about accosting women. Tic Tac responded. In a similar instance, Skittles distanced itself from the Trump campaign when son Donald Trump Jr. drew an analogy between Syrian refugees and a bowl of the candy.

When a business is identified with a specific political candidate or public figure, the association alters customer focus from the branding of that business to a person that they may not identify with.  It ultimately forces customers to decide whether or not they will support that business.  The mention of a product or service in a way that is not in keeping with a brand will force your business to take action. 

Look Before you Leap (and Tweet)

Commenting with a hashtag means joining the discussion that is associated with that hashtag.  Brands must be sure to test the discussion waters before jumping in.  

DiGiornio Pizza did not, and landed into hot water in 2014 when it commented on a hashtag #WhyIStayed before realizing it was meant for a discussion on spousal abuse. The company apologized for its whimsical tweet. 

Marketers can plan by monitoring a hashtag in a dedicated column in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.  Doing so can help marketers see what discussion threads are developing. 

If the hashtag is an anagram, marketers should check out a user-maintained definition site such as Tagdef.  The site can indicate how the hashtag is defined and used, helping to highlight if an anagram has an alternative meaning for slang.

Keep a log of lessons learned

Marketers should maintain a repository of lessons or best practices.  The repository can be in any medium, but should be kept in an application for easy team access, and sharing when necessary.  It can be a dedicated notebook of saved articles in Evernote, a channel with pinned files in Slack, or even a simple list of URLs and notes in a Word document.

Reviewing these notes can help marketers raise their emotional IQ with customers because they can see the practices that enhance—or degrade—the connection.  Implementing the ideas described above can show marketers how real connections with real customers are suppose to work.  It is those connections that keep people talking positively for a long time.

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