Zip it, sweeties: why brands need to think carefully about jumping on social bandwagons

I work in a bank. Let’s call a spade a spade: banks don’t have a reputation for being the most outrageous, innovative or spontaneous crowd. Hanging out on Twitter is a pretty tough gig when you want to connect with your customer—and truly converse in a way that makes them feel valued. When was the last time you had a big fat belly laugh reading the feed from your electricity provider? Or that brand that makes your toaster? 

As a bank we have to be considered. As a brand we take risks with our content. However, in recent years the lines have become more and more blurred and big brands and corporations have been taking some flak for their inability to control their fear of missing out (#FOMO) by hijacking inappropriate hashtags and trends, as evidenced by John Oliver’s rant asking corporations to ‘shut the f*** up’ and stay off Twitter.

Whether it be their amazing insensitivity or talking about topics that have utterly no relevance to them, seemingly nothing is safe (or should we say sacred?). It amazes me when I see huge corporations with tens of thousands of followers getting all Chatty Cathy with no clue about how to steer the conversation. 

The greater the role of technology within our daily lives, the more devices we own and the less person-to-person interaction we have, the greater the risk of brands losing their human qualities that are so important. It seems that this has become particularly prevalent on Twitter, with brands competing in an already saturated and crowded market, attempting to shout the loudest and gain the most attention. 

But it’s not about attention anymore. It’s about resolution and outcomes. Sure, a video or hashtag going viral is great, but what about value for the customer? Seeing a brand humiliated on Twitter for their inappropriate content is funny for a while, but what about the long-term damage to the brand? How does the customer view these faux pas? I think brands need to reconsider their focus. Don’t be too focused on sentiment and ensuring you’re part of every conversation. Look instead at the resolution and outcome. We all get #FOMO every now and then, but understanding what’s appropriate is the difference between a good brand and a great brand. 

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid seasonal trends and topics altogether. It simply means you need to take a look around at some of the worst examples of social media interaction and taste as a cautionary tale. A search of ‘hashtag fails’ produces an abundance of examples: Delta Airlines, Waitrose, Susan Boyle, McDonald’s, Starbucks—the list is endless and highlights that even the biggest brands can become the victim of a hijacked hashtag. 

If people like/follow you, they already know what you do. Why attempt to muddy the waters? A recent example of this was back in May when an email from a man named Greg requesting holiday leave was accidently sent to the whole company. This company happened to be Arcadia, the retail powerhouse in the UK, parent to fashion brands including Topshop and Miss Selfridge and employer to a couple of thousand people. Naturally, Greg’s request was circulated on Twitter and Instagram with colleagues starting the hashtag #GiveGregTheHoliday. Within minutes it was hiking up the trends list and Trek America (in the spirit of generosity) threw out a free adventure holiday. Miss Selfridge and BHS (also Arcadia) jumped on board with offers of sleek apparel and then out of nowhere, Cellecta Insulation. ‘Cos yeah, buying insulation would be top of your list when you’ve just been given a dream trip (and the rest).

This fantastically fluid and responsive display of love is exactly what Twitter, in particular, is about. Being aware, being agile and taking social media and using it as a window to your brand by accentuating your humanity. Cellecta clearly wanted to get amongst it and failed. If you know your brand needs some TLC and your aim is to engage with your customer, why not create awesome content that plays within your playground, demonstrating your expertise? Social media has vastly increased editorial freedom compared to traditional media and smaller brands with fewer followers, like Cellecta, can leverage this. Facts about soundproofing and insulation? Historical fodder? The customer wants meat, not bones, so listen to them before deciding what to talk about. 

A simple and effective (and free) way of ensuring your content hits the mark is a filter. Create this filter/matrix using touch-points that are important to you and your brand. If it doesn’t make it through the filter, it doesn’t make it to your profile. 

Again, I want to reiterate that this isn’t all about playing safe. Keep experimenting because different subjects will resonate with different audiences. The caveat is simply to look at the value for the customer. Before you tweet, what will the customer gain? A freebie? A good laugh? Some advice? Don’t post for the sake of it; random for random’s sake simply makes you look desperate and needy. Create a great piece of content and own it—even if this means only posting something pro-active a couple of times a week.

Be present, be reactive and get creative, but above all, don’t be ‘that brand’. You might just end up being discussed by John Oliver. 

  • Katie Byrne is social media editor at Kiwibank. 
  • This article originally appeared in the November/December edition of NZ Marketing. 

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