Brands are expected to have opinions on social media. After all, that's the whole point, right? To humanize your brand and show that it has its own personality?
That said, brands are not people, and they shouldn't behave like them. That means that some of the contentious things that people discuss with their networks on social media -- the topics that end up sparking the most heated conversations -- aren't the ones that brands should be adding their two cents on. And they certainly shouldn't be making clever little quips about serious matters.
Sometimes it's hard for a social media manager to resist capitalizing on the latest trending topic. But brands don't have to -- and frankly shouldn't -- weigh in on every big news item of the day. In many cases, they're just inviting a wave of unfriending and backlash when they tackle certain topics.
Here are the topics that social media managers should avoid if they want to avoid high blood pressure. You'd think some of these would be obvious. But apparently they're not.
This one is hard for a lot of social media managers to accept, especially during election seasons and when major political news breaks overseas. After all, everyone is talking about it on Facebook and Twitter. So the brands should too, right?
No. They shouldn't. Please resist the urge. Unless your brand is built on its political stance (i.e., a political party, candidate, or action group), then people don't want to hear it. And it's likely going to come off as inappropriate, especially if you try to cram a square peg into a round hole and associate your lifestyle brand with a life-or-death issue.
One of the most obvious examples of this is fashion designer Kenneth Cole, which will forever be remembered in social media circles for its epic insensitivity during the political riots in Egypt. During the height of the political turmoil, the brand tweeted, "Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online." The brand even provided a link to its spring collection. As you can imagine, that went over well.
Another less-dramatic example is Dos Equis and its iconic "Most Interesting Man in the World." When you create a fictional spokesman that compelling, don't be surprised when people have trouble distinguishing the things he says in his personal life from the things he says when representing your brand. In this case, Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who plays the Most Interesting Man character, decided to hold a fundraiser for Barack Obama. And that didn't sit well with some Dos Equis drinkers, one of whom took to the brand's Facebook page to declare, "Since you are supporting Obama you just lost a customer."
No, Dos Equis can't control the personal lives and politics of every actor who touches its brand. But the example highlights the lesson all the same: People don't like their beer and politics to mix. So don't do it.
Some people might disagree with me about the politics issue. You might argue that there are appropriate ways in which brands can talk political affiliations and foreign affairs. But surely we can all agree that you shouldn't make light of mental illness on social media. Right? Can we agree on that?
If so, somebody please tell 7-Eleven. In May 2011, the brand posted this to its Facebook wall: "May is Mental Health Month...or so the SHADOWY CONSPIRATORS WHO CONTROL THE WORLD would have you believe..."
I'll admit it. I think it's funny. But as you might imagine, many people who deal with mental illness on a day-to-day basis might not.
But no matter the level of crassness you appreciate in your humor, the 7-Eleven post is offensive for another reason -- namely, that it has absolutely nothing to do with the brand itself. It was simply a case of a social media manager coming up with what he or she considered to be a funny quip and choosing to post it on behalf of the brand, rather than on his or her own personal Facebook page. Which is where those sorts of quips belong.
Natural disasters are big news items. But please, unless your brand is posting about the massive donation that it's making to relief efforts, try to resist the urge to inject your brand into the middle of the discussion. (And even if you're making a donation, be careful how you announce it.) There are far too many examples of brands that couldn't follow this simple rule.
For example, a couple of years back, the Onyx Cafe in Daly City, Calif., notoriously tried to capitalize on a devastating local fire that killed a number of people. It tweeted out, "A lil hott from the fire in San Bruno?? Come cool off with a drink at Onyx Cafe!!" Not cool, guys.
Then, of course, there was the case of Microsoft, which drew considerable flack when it tweeted on its Bing Twitter account that Microsoft would donate $1 to victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami every time Twitter users retweeted Microsoft's original pitch to their followers. Noble intentions, perhaps. But overt promotion as well. And people aren't dummies. They know when a brand's seeming concern for humanity has been tainted by an executive meeting in which the words "just think of all the publicity!" have been uttered.
Finally, similar to the situation with Dos Equis and its Most Interesting Man, Aflac had its hands full after the voice of its spokesduck, Gilbert Gottfried, took to his personal Twitter account with a few questionable jokes about the tragedy in Japan, including "Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them." The brand was quick to part ways with Gottfried, as it understood this fundamental premise: Making light of disasters in social media is not OK.
It's a sad commentary on the judgment of some digital marketers that I even have to include this topic on the list. But seriously, people. Seriously. Don't joke about rape on your brand's social media properties. (Did I really have to say that?)
Apparently so. Because Belvedere vodka didn't get that memo. Instead, it posted this on Facebook:
I probably don't have to tell you how that story ended. Outrage. Apology. Press coverage. (We've seen these things play out too many times. Recounting the series of events has become tiresome.)
OK, but surely that Belvedere situation was a fluke, right? No other brand is dumb enough to make light of rape, right?
Durex's South African Twitter account gave us this little gem late last year:
I wish I were making this up. I truly do. And so, I'll say it one more time: Don't joke about rape in social media, brands. Just...don't.
Given the number of mass shootings we've seen in the U.S. this past year, I feel I need to throw this out there: Brands don't need to weigh in on national tragedies. If you feel you must, you can express condolences. Better yet, donate to relief efforts or a fund for the victims (but don't be braggy about it). But that's where you need to draw the line.
CelebBoutique found this one out the hard way in the wake of the Aurora killings in Colorado. Some dingbat of a social media manager tweeted out this little face-palm: #Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress.
The brand claimed it was simply the result of a social media manager who wasn't keeping up on the news of the day. And while I suppose it's better to be seen as an idiot rather than a completely insensitive butthole, it's hardly an excuse.
And so, our final lesson for the day: Before you capitalize on a trending topic, go ahead and see why it's trending. If it's because a whole bunch of people have just been tragically murdered, go ahead and delete that tweet you just wrote.