Three common social media misfires (and how to avoid them)

Social media has a critical role to play in your overall marketing campaign. A well-executed campaign will spread naturally through shares on the major outlets. You must invest the time and yes – money – required to nurture each individual outlet. Here are four common misfires made by marketers in the social media arena, and how you can avoid them:


#1: I created a “viral” campaign that offended our customer base.

The “viral” campaign is the Holy Grail of marketing. Who wouldn’t want millions in free publicity? Ask Kellogg’s UK. The company has a long-running campaign to provide meals to children in need. In November 2013, the company attempted to take its philanthropic efforts viral by tweeting “1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child.”


Kelloggs UK Tweet: 1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child


The marketers went for brevity to ensure re-tweeters would have room to add their own goodwill messages. Customers read it as borderline blackmail – “buy our product or we won’t feed a starving child.” The campaign went viral as users took to their Twitter, Facebook and blog accounts to express horror and outrage.

Kellogg’s UK deleted the original tweet and issued a heart-felt apology tweet, but it was too late. Thousands of retweets and screen captures can be found online nearly a year later, and the tweet remains one of the top search results for the company.

Many companies publicly support causes through donations or campaign integration. When it comes time to integrate your company’s pet project into a social media campaign, consider these tips:

  • Look at it with your “customer” eyes. Consider how you personally would react to the language and/or images used if you didn’t have the complete marketing story.
  • Ask someone else. Find a coworker who isn’t directly involved with the campaign or cause to review your materials. He/she will see things you can’t.
  • Wait a day. Put some space between when you write the Tweet or post and when you put it out in the world.


#2. I created a hashtag that isn’t being used consistently.

Hashtags (#example) are everywhere in advertising and on screens. A successful hashtag can be used to see what customers are saying about your product (good and bad) and to track success. There are several issues that can arise around hashtags, so we’ll choose one: the poorly executed hashtag.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has tried to tap into the natural flood of social media that hits each year during the Oscars, but has yet to truly wrangle it. Stunts aside (see the infamous Ellen selfie) the Academy has had a difficult time getting everyone to agree on a single hashtag for the entire event. In 2014, the following hashtags all trended:







…and that’s just a small sampling. That’s an extreme example, but it does show how complicated social media can make your campaign. (For the record, the official hashtag is simply #Oscars.) Of course, one good stunt can overcome confusion. See: Ellen’s selfie with Bradley Cooper and other stars.

Ellen Degeneres selfie

A successful hashtag campaign has multiple components:

  • Easy to remember: You’re asking customers to do you a favor. Give them something easy to remember, or they will make something up.
  • Easy to spell: Leave your thesaurus behind and use short, simple words. This will increase the odds users will tap into your hashtag.
  • Keep it short: Short hashtags are considerate to your users. They are also critical for Twitter.
  • Publicize it: Don’t assume users will go digging for your hashtags. Choose a hashtag that can live for months and integrate it into your overall campaign. Integrate it into your packaging, put it on your ads and use it consistently in your social media.


#3. I posted an item that came off as clueless or offensive.

For marketers, a knowledge of both history and current events is almost as important as knowing how to sell a product. We walk a delicate minefield of tragic news, anniversaries and cultural sensitivity that can make planning a social media campaign feel overwhelming. There are plenty of examples to be had here. In most cases, it wasn’t the organization’s fault – it was just bad timing. So let’s focus on what you can do to minimize your exposure:

Keep an eye (or ear) on the news. For social media managers, the news can be your best friend – or worst enemy.

  • Check the news throughout the day.
  • Sign up for news alerts from multiple locations.
  • When major events do occur, review your recent social media postings for any unintended consequences.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull materials. Better to lose impressions now than to leave a bad impression in the long-term.

Put milestone dates on your calendar and plan around them. Certain dates have become synonymous with tragedy. Put those dates on your scheduling calendar and be sensitive about posting materials on those days.

  • Don’t post company announcements or “What’s everyone doing” type materials on days of remembrance.
  • Be careful what you post. Even the most heart-felt remembrance can come off as hollow or even offensive when published on a corporate account.
  • If possible, just go dark for the day.

Social media has the power to build your brand or tear it down. By viewing materials from a customer-centric point of view, providing clear guidance to the customer and managing the long-term message, you can increase the odds of success.


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