I have a confession to make: Every day, I help brands craft content that is spread across social networks. I celebrate when we reach fan milestones, write a really engaging post, or come up with a great way to connect on an emerging network.
But there are many times when seeing brands on social media makes me want to slam my head against my screen. Brands are under immense pressure to have a presence and make an impact--pressure that has led them to try just about anything, causing them to potentially damage their reputation (and the actual benefit of social media) in the process.
Here are some examples of brands that are taking the "social" out of social media and hurting the channel.
The Social Media "Hack"
Oh, Chipotle. In the midst of an amazing promotion to celebrate its 20th anniversary, someone at the brand's agency decided it would be a great idea to stage a Twitter hack, releasing tweets like, "Do I have a tweet." Chipotle received massive engagement, as people shared the "oopsie" across the web. However, the hack, as the brand later admitted, was entirely staged and part of the 20th anniversary celebration. This was an unnecessary stunt for Chipotle, a brand that values "food with integrity."
And Chipotle is not alone in its faux hacking: this same stunt has been pulled by MTV and BET. Trickery will get you engagement, but it's the absolute opposite of what social media is all about for consumers.
The "Stretch" To Be Relevant
"Real Time Relevance" is a term I've been hearing ever since Oreo released its blackout image during the Super Bowl. Following that simple tweet, brands have been desperately trying to have their own "Oreo Moment." And so, with the birth of the #royalbaby, brands set up plans to release relevant content. Some, like Pampers, had an obvious and direct connection. Others, like Regus, had a much bigger stretch for relevancy. If brands have a natural, smart tie-in, they should go for it. If it's a stretch, then they end up looking cheesy and desperate when they insert themselves in a conversation that's not about them.
The "Canned Response"
I work with many brands in highly regulated industries. But I always tell them: If we can't figure out a way to deliver personalized responses to people who need our help, then we shouldn't be on social media. Brands that can only deliver completely canned responses end up hurting their reputations, rather than helping them. Take Bank of America, which claims to have over 100 people managing its accounts and yet somehow managed to completely ignore its customers and respond with a bevy of non-sequitor responses.
There is a place for brands on social media. They can provide value, answer questions, and even make us laugh. But by trying to own the platform, brands can end up destroying the benefits. Tread lightly and stay tuned for my next piece on the three ways brands are rocking social media!
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.