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It was straight from a spy novel: Carlos Ghosn, the embattled former CEO of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi automobile alliance, reportedly fled Japan--where he's facing charges of financial misconduct--in the dead of night last month.
Within a week, a detail emerged in the Wall Street Journal: Ghosn apparently evaded authorities by hiding in a case designed for concert audio equipment, which was then loaded onto a private jet. And thus spawned the strangest social media craze in recent memory: the Carlos Ghosn Challenge, in which people film themselves attempting to fit inside guitar cases, piano bags, and other musical containers.
Yes, seriously. Here are some examples, courtesy of French state-owned news network France 24. It got so bad that this past Saturday, Japanese conglomerate Yamaha, which makes such cases, posted a message on Twitter (translated from Japanese):
We won't mention the reason, but there have been many tweets about climbing inside large musical instrument cases. A warning after any unfortunate accident would be too late, so we ask everyone not to try it.
This story shows that you never know what's coming next for your brand in the Wild West of social media. Yamaha surely didn't plan on inserting itself into the Carlos Ghosn saga. But to the company's credit, it did so proactively and in a well-calibrated way. It describes the trend without giving it too much credence or visibility. It very clearly identifies it as dangerous without making fun of participants. And the response refuses to touch Ghosn's actual name with a ten-foot stick.
That's smart. Some situations call for humor, and everyone loves when a funny corporate tweet goes viral. It would be easy to learn the wrong lesson: If you want to insert yourself into an online conversation, a quip or a joke is the way to go. German appliances manufacturer Miele learned that the hard way in 2018 after posting a photo on Facebook for International Women's Day. The photo featured four white women excitedly perched on a washer and dryer, with the caption: "May all women always remember to embrace what makes them unique!" It only took a few hours of blowback for the company to delete the post.
You already know that your brand ought to be paying attention to online conversations. And when it comes time to respond, never forget: Tone is what will get you in trouble.