How to Blow Your Brand's Value With a Single Tweet
Companies and organizations of all size and budget try to attract customers and positive attention through social media. And yet, so many blow up online with such ferocity that you must wonder whether many marketing people have taken classes in how to be tone deaf.
A rash of perfect Twitter examples came on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as Digiday reported. The results went from bad to handcuff-them-so-they-can't-tweet-again. Here are some examples and the basic rules of intelligent marketing they violated.
Don't make a comparison someone can turn upside down.
On the milder side, McDonald's wanted to "celebrate our rich tradition of diversity and inclusion." Even though trying to congratulate your company by latching on to a civil rights leader is bad enough, the burger giant did something even more foolish. McDonald's is getting hammered by union and social organization activists for paying employees so relatively little that they often require federal or state assistance. Invoking the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., who organized the Poor People's Campaign, is asking to look bad.
Don't say something totally absurd.
Again from the food industry, Malt-O-Meal cereals decided to celebrate MLK Day by urging people to have a good breakfast so "you're fueled to do something meaningful today." Certainly in the 60s, when people faced police batons, water hoses, and snarling dogs, having cold cereal with milk was something that would give them hope.
Avoid asking people to slap you down.
A number of companies, including networking giant Cisco, yogurt brand Chobani, K-Mart, and Chicken of the Sea tuna, all used the same MLK quote: "What are you doing for others?" Given that you're obviously trying to promote yourself, you're begging for a response like the one K-Mart got: "just a thought: Kmart could start paying others more." Cisco got to hear: " if you're Cisco you lay them off even though you're making Billions!! looking out for yourself and no one else!" Notice a pattern here?
Dow Chemical at least used a different quote: "How are you making Dr. King's dream a reality?" And reality slapped them in the face with: "I'm making a difference by not poisoning people."
Refrain from acting like a totally greedy loser.
Perhaps the worst thing you could do is take something generally respected by your clientele and try to completely subsume it in your desire for more sales. As Bustle.com noticed, Pop Chips (what is it with food companies?) quoted King but then called him an eternal poptimist. Sleep aid manufacturer ZzzQuil pronounced, "Today is the day for dreaming. Happy MLK Day."
Before you ask if it could get any worse, it could. Far worse. A porn website suggested that in honor of the day, people look at the "ebony" or interracial categories. That's even worse than Hats.com suggesting that people "celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day with a hat" from the company.
Come on, folks. If you think any of this is intelligent marketing, you owe it to your company and the world in general to quit the business and find a harmless way to spend your time. Good social marketing takes some talent, but the basics are not rocket science.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.