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Navigating the waters of social media isn’t always easy – as a number of brands have demonstrated in recent years. Learn from their mistakes and you won’t be doomed to repeat history.

Keep your enemies closer

Competitive intelligence isn’t just about product development, or finding disgruntled consumers to convert. You need to know when one of your competitors crashes and burns on social – so you can avoid doing the same.

Sometimes the mistakes are innocent enough – but social consumers are a tough, and often unforgiving, crowd. Anything you do to avoid their wrath is worthwhile – especially when all it takes is a little social monitoring.

Here are 4 lessons from brands who took one for the team:

1. Politics and brands don’t mix

Read the responses to almost any political post by a celebrity, and you see how adamant consumers are that their opinions about such issues are unwelcome. This alone should be enough for brands to understand the value in staying on message, but some just can’t resist.

Such was the case when New Balance VP of Public Affairs shared a tweet in support of President Trump. Trump supporters might have loved it, but many on the other side of the fence were literally burning their sneakers.

Given this, you’d think Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank would have known better when, a few months later, he called Trump “a real asset for the country” during an interview on CNBC.

The backlash put UA endorsers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Misty Copeland in the awkward position of separating themselves from the CEO’s opinion, without trashing the brand they represent.

The added lesson here is events don’t have to initiate on social media to gain traction there.

2. Social issues are also dicey

In the midst of a heated election season, many brands used their voices to speak for the disenfranchised – to move the needle on social issues at play during the upcoming election. There’s something to be said for brands with a conscience, but you have to be ready for the potential fallout.

Not everyone loved 84 Lumber’s “immigrant story” Super Bowl ad this past year. The upside is, the brand expected the pretty even split they got – at least according to the agency that created the spot.

Still, this and other commercials during the Super Bowl should have taught brands to be cautious when using social issues in their marketing efforts. Somehow Pepsi missed the memo. Their ad featuring Kendall Jenner was criticized for trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement, leaving the company scrambling to apologize after pulling the commercial.

3. Don’t add fuel to the fire

When an Applebee’s server shared a horrible tip on Reddit – from a pastor no less – the post went viral quickly. Instead of riding out the storm, Applebee’s employed their “transparency” policy, attempting to “respond to every comment, in many cases simply cutting and pasting the corporate policy statement.”

This just angered social users, giving the story added life.

What the restaurant chain should have done was follow the example of the Sacramento Kings. When their new logo was leaked prior to its official unveiling, a careful exploration of social sentiment indicated they should leave the turmoil unanswered in the short term. The actual unveiling of the new logo days later would calm the storm.

Of course, there are times when silence isn’t the answer – but insights from your social analytics tools should be the deciding factor. Don’t respond just for the sake of responding.

Meanwhile, there’s a second lesson here that could have saved Applebee’s: Instituting a clear employee social media policy. After several brands have gone through similar issues, there’s no excuse for not communicating to your workforce what is allowed and not allowed on social media.

4. Think twice, post once

The number of social media fails that happen every month indicate not enough brands are taking advantage of the lessons competitors offer.

American Apparel’s young social marketer didn’t recognize the trail of smoke blazing into the sky was an image capturing the fatal disaster of the Challenger space shuttle launch – the opposite of a fitting July 4th post.

Young or not, in this age of fairly regular copyright abuse, no one thinks twice about grabbing an image and sharing it on social media. But brands should always, always think twice.

When they do they’re more likely to catch something like the horrible wording used by Adidas in their “You survived the Boston Marathon” email. It’s only been four years since the tragic attack on Boston – one not everyone did survive. Any marketer old enough to be in charge of brand messaging should be aware of the history.

The lessons are out there

While it’s true marketers are still perfecting how they use social media and other strategies to promote brands, the painful – and costly – lessons of other brands are no secret.

Using social media listening to follow competitors and learn from their actions is not only a smart idea, it’s potentially brand-saving.

Not all brands recover from negative incidents that go viral. If they do, it takes a long time, creating opportunities for competitors to grab the attention of their disenchanted audience.

If you don’t learn from the example of other brands – you’ll have no one else to blame when the spotlight lands on yours.

Want to hear more about using social analytics for competitive intelligence? Reach out!

Image from Denise Krebs

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