Is it just me, or are consumer brands going to extreme and questionable measures to get attention in social media? MTV, followed by Chipotle, tried to gain followers and generate buzz by “fake-hacking” into their own Twitter accounts. Kenneth Cole sent out yet another tone-deaf tweet, causing onlookers to wonder if the brand really is clueless or if their tweets about fashion in the midst of war and civil unrest are misguided attempts to spark interest. What is prompting brands to take these types of risks in social media? Are the risks paying off? If it’s true that all press is good press, does the same rule apply to social media chatter? Is negative conversation about your brand better than no conversation at all?

The social media space is overflowing with brands, all of whom are clamoring for their fair share of voice. There is pressure from all angles to increase conversation volume, improve engagement rates, and achieve audience growth. While these metrics don’t necessarily indicate success or business impact, they are the gold standard in many marketing organizations. Given those expectations, it can be tempting to resort to stunts in order to break through the clutter, have your brand voice heard, and watch the number of fans, followers and retweets climb.  That said will you be able to face yourself, your CMO, or your core audience, in the morning?

How, you may ask, do brands find themselves on the wrong side of social media stunt? The idea itself can come from anywhere, top-down strategy, bottom-up tactical execution or an overarching misunderstanding of how to use effectively use social marketing for brand building. Some brands face an identity crisis when it comes to social media. They have a mission and operating principles that guide their business, but they struggle to translate this into authentic online engagement. Other brands, however, use social media stunts to gain temporary favor online, watering down the true value proposition of social marketing and incurring real costs that typically outweigh the perceived benefits.

A crass and tasteless tweet by a brand, particularly one that doesn’t immediately yield the desired outcome, usually results in at least a week of heavy duty social media monitoring, increased engagement by community managers, and reams of reports on sentiment analysis and conversation volume. These activities take focus and resources away from social marketing techniques that can actually deliver value to your customers and shareholders.  When your 140 characters of fame are finished, the media attention has waned and the rate of fan and follower acquisition has returned to normal, consider whether your actions led to improved customer engagement or brand building.

If you want to be provocative, take risks that illustrate brand innovation or take a position on an issue that matters to your stakeholders. This is the type of risky business that actually moves the needle on what audiences think, say and believe about your brand and influences them in positive ways that matter to your bottom line.

  1. September 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm
    Bill Carey says:

    This is interesting. Hasn’t it always been dog eat dog like that though? The only real difference now seems to be its visibility. Used to be you would only hear of things like this in the background. Now is just upfront…

    • September 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm
      Jennifer Polk says:

      I agree, Bill. Social marketing has given greater visibility to the best and worst practices in marketing, which is why marketers have to be thoughtful about the intent and the consequences of tactics.

  2. September 13, 2013 at 6:57 pm
    John Harrigan says:

    Smart article Jennifer! Intentional negative press is tricky PR tool.

  3. September 14, 2013 at 6:06 pm
    Blake Lively says:

    Social media is one of the most effective tool in promotion of any product. But too much use of it can be risky. So one should be careful while promoting their work or product. You should believe your brand and should influence people in positive way.

  4. September 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm
    Ramesh Ramalrishnan says:

    The issue is so many people/companies are so used to the numbers game – pace. In social media, being out-of-pace is one and being out-of-place is another.

    The danger is, companies executing a social media plan when their plan/approach is not social! This shows their view to Social media as a channel not a mindset.

    Why You Need A Strategy That Is Social, Not A Social Media Strategy

    – Ramesh Ramakrishnan ( Twitter @Ramesh_Ramki)

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