Marketing in an Age of Social Media

#Fail #ThinkBeforeYouTweet

Word of mouth advertising has always been a powerful force and the internet has only increased the potential reach of word of mouth recommendations for both consumers and marketers. In fact, customers who engage with a company via social media are the best ambassadors of a company’s brand, according to a 2013 study by former Google division Wildfire…
The study found that people who feel a relationship with the company are, “more likely to prefer and buy from that company and recommend its products to others.” Some companies have used social media to successfully create an almost cult-like loyalty among followers. How, then, do others get it so wrong?

This past September, scores of people took to Twitter to share stories of the difficulties of leaving an abusive partner. Domestic violence victims using the social media site employed the hashtag #WhyIStayed in order for others to find their stories. Unfortunately, not everyone used the tag in the same way.

The Twitter account of DiGiorno Pizza posted the tweet “#WhyIStayed You Had Pizza” and was forced to issue several apologies after angry users found the tweet to be inappropriate. The company denied intentionally using the tag to mock the situation with a spokesperson responding, “It was a truly awful post and I take responsibility for it. I had not checked the context of the hashtag beforehand. I am so sorry.”

This has not been the only Twitter gaffe of its kind. While some incidents are accidental, or at least claim to be, other subverting of hashtag uses are quite deliberate. To exploit popular trending topics, some have added popular hashtags to unrelated tweets in order to show up in user searches. Including trending topics in tweets can work, but only when relevant to the content; otherwise, users tend to react angrily to such spam-like behaviour.

Other companies, in spectacular displays of poor judgment, have made jokes or promoted special offers on the backs of disasters such as the Boston marathon bombing, the Cairo uprising or the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The immediacy of Twitter results in a backlash that is swift and can grow rapidly beyond control. The damage can be lasting.

It may seem obvious that one would need to think before tweeting and not make light of serious situations as a promotional tool. Using death and disaster to promote products is never likely to be received well and hashtags need to be checked to see what their current use might be or how they might be abused.

When McDonald’s launched #McDStories, it was envisioned as a way to share stories about enjoyable experiences at the fast food chain. Twitter users gleefully adopted the hashtag to spread awful experiences at the restaurant and thousands of negative posts followed. The ensuing free-for-all could have been avoided had the company been aware of how it is viewed by some Internet users and had employed a different platform over which it could have had more control.

On sites such as YouTube, Vine, Reddit, Google+, Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, Amazon and Twitter, brands are being dissected and discussed. Customers’ reviews and opinions are being used to drive brand messages. Knowing how to promote a brand in an environment like this is important; knowing how to react when things don’t go as planned is critical.

The owners of Amy’s Baking Company of Scottsdale, Arizona fought with customers on business review site Yelp over a negative review, followed by further fights on Reddit and Facebook when their behavior went viral. They tried defending the restaurant using multiple accounts and rants employing derogatory language and expletives – all in uppercase. As in the case of Applebee’s restaurant chain fighting with Facebook users who were upset at a waitress firing, what followed was a virtual pitchfork mob as Internet users from around the world piled in with tens of thousands of posts.

An angry, defensive response, as in these cases, only stimulated further backlash against the restaurants and made them easy targets for the angry and fun targets for online trolls. It is vital to know when (and how!) to speak out against accusations and when to walk away. Publicly responding with personal attacks is deeply unprofessional. Yet, sometimes it is companies otherwise known for social media shrewdness who feel the need to be ‘right’ in the face of opposition.

Lauded as one of Australia’s best social media managers is Black Milk Clothing’s Head of Sales and Marketing Cameron Parker. Black Milk is a company solely reliant on social media for its advertising and is strikingly successful at it. The company employs a number of full time staff charged with the in-house managing its many social media sites and providing personal interaction with customers. Instead of merely selling clothing, its sites engender a strong sense of community. Company fans, who refer to themselves by the nickname Sharkies, identify strongly with the stated values of acceptance and embracing geeky individuality as they eagerly plot future purchases.

Each garment has its own hashtag and customer Instagram selfies with the tag are then featured on the product page of the Black Milk site. Seeing themselves on the site makes customers feel even more connected to the company. To celebrate May 4th (May the Fourth Be with You) aka Star Wars Day, however, the clothing retailer posted a version of the expectation vs. reality meme, which upset the community. It featured a fully made up model sporting an R2D2 themed Black Milk garment (expected ideal) against Mayim Bialik’s character in The Big Bang Theory wearing a Star Trek outfit (reality failure). The company’s Facebook followers were unhappy with the post and expressed disappointment at the implication that there was something wrong with Mayim’s look. Others said it violated one of the company’s “commandments” as stated on the Facebook page: “You shall not make critical comments on other women’ bodies.”

As the post gained attention, the company responded, not by deleting the post or apologizing for offending its carefully crafted community, but by dismissing concerns, deleting comments and blocking or banning dozens of users from the page. The deletion of any comment not deemed “positive” enough further enraged upset community members who felt that their concerns were not being taken seriously. Indeed, the outrage at the patronizing tone and the silencing of dissenting opinions far outstripped any initial concerns about the meme itself.

The post was eventually removed, but the social media team continued to maintain that anyone who disagreed was wrong. Part of its statement urged: “we believe that if you get really upset by the way we do things, you should probably move on and not be a part of what we are doing.”

For a company with an online only sales approach, social media is critical in forming and maintaining connections with customers. It was somewhat ironic that only a month before, Mr. Parker had stated in an interview that the biggest social media faux pas he could think of was “talking down to your community.”

After further backlash finally resulted in an apology, Cameron Parker admitted there had been a mistake, adding that the company, “never meant to offend anyone.”

With thousands of customers feeling alienated by a company they helped to build, now what? The company had some work to do.

Anger lingered, while the staff went into overdrive to try to fix the situation. The company also employed outside industry experts to help review policies in what Mr. Parker refers to as a “huge learning curve.” The company claims that situations like this will be dealt with differently and more sensitively in the future. Whether the claims are just damage control or whether they will be put into practice following some future slip up, the community – for the most part – seems to have forgiven.

So, is all publicity good publicity?

Negative attention can be dealt with. One can plead ignorance, dispute allegations without losing temper, or even admit fault, apologize and vow to fix the mistake. Any course of action will be scrutinized, but the positive result of the attention is increased name recognition. If things are handled well, the resulting public platform becomes an opportunity.

The basic rule of social media is simple: give customers what they want from your social sites while treating them as valued and respected. The majority of people who engage companies on social media are looking for discounts and special offers; the rest follow social networks just for interesting or amusing content. A constant flow of useful and entertaining posts keeps many coming back and spreading the word.

In social media, everything done right may pass unnoticed, but just a single mistake may be remembered for years. The common component to most of these blunders is that the social media team was not listening. Social media interaction is a conversation, not a monologue.

June 21, 2018, 11:30 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.