Head on over to Twitter right now and you'll see the promoted trend, #AskChevron. As many hashtags promotions have experienced as of late, it's riddled with negative, horrific feedback about Chevron. There's only one thing different about this hashtag from those that were started by the NYPD or McDonald's. This campaign was not started by Chevron at all. This was a promoted tweet set up and paid for by activist group "The Toxic Effect."
We talk all the time about brand failures on social media--how brands set up social promotions that leave them vulnerable to unanticipated, undesired negative feedback. When the NYPD asked users to share a photo with a New York Police Officer, they didn't expect the onslaught of pictures of brutality. When McDonald's asked for McD stories, they didn't anticipate stories of rats in store locations. And when Blackberry promoted a trend for employment called #RIMjobs....well, let's just say they weren't thinking about alternate meanings.
But this is much bigger than that. This is an advertised attack from an activist group on a Chevron, being promoted during their annual meeting. Chevron has no control, and the company behind this has the dollars to support the campaign. And they're not the only ones. At McDonald's annual shareholder meeting, a hashtag conversation was organized called #momsnotlovinit. The hashtag supported mothers who came to the meeting to voice their concerns.Though the hashtag was not promoted, it quickly gained momentum through key mom bloggers and activists.
This leaves brands in a very precarious position. If Twitter's self serve platform allows anyone to advertise, there's absolutely nothing to stop this type of activism. And so, the question becomes...what happens next. Here's what's in store for twitter, activists, and brands:
For Twitter: Twitter will be threatened by big brands to not accept or allow this type of advertising. They will feel the pressure and threat of revenue loss from big brands that will promise to shy away from the platform. However, it can't and won't happen. First, if you want to know where big brand dollar money is going to go, simply follow the agencies that place the dollars. With Omnicom's recent 230 million dollar partnership with Twitter for mobile ads as an example, Twitter will follow Facebook's lead in becoming pay to play. Activist groups will not only drive prices up by advertising, they will force the brands to promote a response. Ad prices will go up as a result.
For Activists: Promoted trends will be the next big thing....for a while. This is an "Oreo Moment" for Toxic Effect: setting a trend that will be replicated at many a shareholder meeting. Expect crowdfunded campaigns to surge, and even small groups to be able to crowdsource from the community to activate. Eventually, this trend will receive the same fatigue that "real time marketing" at major events has experienced. But for now, it will grow.
For Brands: Boy, oh, boy, does this place brands in a precarious position. Some brands will completely shy away and ignore. Others will prepare, post, and promote a response within the hashtag.
Every brand will incorporate the following question into their social media policy: "What happens if I'm brandjacked with a paid ad?"
The real question is: Will any of the brands make changes to their business based on feedback that is strong enough that people are willing to pay to have it seen?
So far, Chevron has not responded to the promoted #AskChevron trend, and has continued tweeting about their profits and data from the meeting. It will be interesting to see what comes next.