Have you found yourself censoring images, ideas or other posts on social media platforms because you feel they might cause negative feedback from certain members of your online community? This is an example of managing your brand identity, whether you’re conscious of it or not, and many people and businesses have been struggling with the act of branding ever since the first adorable baby animal images started circulating on the Internet.
Make no mistake, managing brand identity on social networks is a difficult task. Additional considerations include when to post, what to post, how to post, where to post, how to respond to criticism or a communication crisis. With all this pressure, some folks are on a personal quest to determine a special formula or to instill a set of rules to follow that will ensure social media success. I don’t know that there really is a secret formula, but I suspect it comes down to one of the first social lessons that most of us learn at an early age: you’ll be far more successful being authentic and empathetic to others, versus a self-aggrandizing type-A loudmouth. In other words, just be real and be aware of your audience.
There have been some pretty atrocious examples of brands and business leaders failing to “be real” on social media and it’s had disastrous (if not amusing) effects on their brand identity. Curiously, many of these missteps have occurred after national or international tragedy, in some ill-advised effort to capitalize on a hot topic of media intrigue. Other missteps have occurred when brands have taken a stance on social issues, temporarily unaware of the people that inhabit their target audience that they’ve spent building over a period of years.
In recent days we’ve seen the following PR disasters:
* Epicuroius advertising some scones and breakfast treats, tying the promotion into the Boston marathon bombing
* Eden Foods opposing the contraceptive measure imposed in the new healthcare law (do they NOT know who their target consumer is?)
For a list of more social blunders, check out this article from Mashable. These examples offer a teachable moment for AM:PM PR friends and clients.
We’ve drummed up a list of five additional suggestions on branding and social media to ensure your brand doesn’t follow in these footsteps.
- Don’t try to attach your brand to a crisis. I would argue that you shouldn’t do it at all, but some folks have big hearts and feel the need to express their sympathy for a tragic event. If you must, let your audience know that the employees of your business have their hearts and minds in the right place. That is real human emotion and it’s fine to express. Once. But trying to tie a product promotion or sale into a disaster is just gross, and above all, not what a real person would do. Several brands including Kenneth Cole and The Gap have had their brand images tarnished by thoughtless Tweets.
- Share information that interests real people. I like kitty posts as much as the next person, but for brand integrity I try to limit myself. As challenging as it is, I do so because sharing kitty images and related social media memes does nothing for my brand. If I do ten kitty-like posts and then one post related to something business-related, my target audience may have already tuned out (or worse, hidden ALL of my posts).
- Don’t oversell yourself. When I was a kid, this guy Jack Roberts was famous in Seattle-area TV commercials for his many, many commercials saying “I wont be undersold.” While his marketing message has stuck with me for 25 years, it’s not an effective strategy for social media. People will get annoyed and tune you out. However, if you get a windfall and want to buy a bunch of TV advertising, give it a shot. Also check out Chuck Curcio for inspiration.
- Don’t create alter egos to bash your critics or competitors. Falling under the “be real” requirement, the founder of Dilbert and CEO of Whole Foods have something in common. Both created fake alter egos to praise and defend themselves online, generating some negative publicity for their brand as a result. Here’s a feature in the NY Times for John Mackey, which is usually a good thing, but this time it wasn’t.
- Make sure you know your customers before sharing your beliefs. In the case of Eden Foods, CEO Michael Potter (no relation to Harry) obviously had temporary amnesia of his customers when he sued against having contraception covered for his employees. Then he kept digging that hole deeper, as shown in this piece from Salon. You have to be careful when taking political postures that represent your public brand or image.
This is a snapshot of some considerations to keep in mind when branding your online business or persona, based on our observations from recent events. While the platforms are always changing, the same general rules always remain. Be authentic, be real, and in the immortal words of George Carlin’s character Rufus, from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “be excellent to each other.”