Yesterday, Hostess Cupcakes tweeted a photo to celebrate Major League Baseball's opening day. Too bad the tweet referenced the wrong sport.
Or did it? In just minutes, Twitter responses went from horror and shock--has this cupcake never been to a ball game?!--to wondering if this was, instead, a genius marketing move. As a Hostess rep later explained to PR Week, it was the latter. Hostess swung for the fences and hit a grand-slam, nothing-but-net, hole-in-one touchdown.
Meanwhile, back on the Inc. Facebook page, I had been watching something similar--but less intentional--take place. We accidentally published a post with a missing word, calling out a $15 industry instead of a $15 billion one. Savvy readers were quick to joke about it--seven Comments accumulated in the first 20 minutes, plus bonus Likes on those corrections.
But here's the interesting part: Because Facebook's algorithm takes into account how quickly interactions take place on the social network, in addition to how many Likes, Shares, and Comments a post earns, those corrections helped boost the post's overall audience reach.
Now almost nobody (Mark Zuckerberg maybe?) knows exactly how the mythic algorithm does its math. And it's impossible to put a number on the effect of specific Comments. After all, stories on top industries are often popular with Inc.'s readership, so it may be that the post would have gotten attention no matter what. But as someone who looks at social engagement numbers daily, I was happily surprised by the eventual reach of this post. I'm fairly confident it wouldn't have performed as well, or reached as many people, if we hadn't accidentally left off the word billion.
Team Hostess and I are not alone in noticing the power of the error: The social media desk of The New York Times has noted that one of its most shared tweets of 2013 was thanks to a mistake. @NYTimes had tweeted, "After 77 Years, Murray and England Rule," although the tennis player is actually Scottish. Writing on NiemanLab, Michael Roston noted that, while the story was quickly corrected on the website, "the error snowballed around social media and the Web for hours." And can you blame readers? It's much more interesting--and therefore, much more shareable--to catch a respected brand getting something wrong than getting it right.
So what's the takeaway for businesses? First, keep in mind that there's a big difference between a social media error that's factual or grammatical, and one that's in poor taste or misses important nuance, like AT&T’s #NeverForget or DiGiorno’s #WhyIStayed. And let's all agree not to start adding typos to every post. But as a one-off? If you can be as savvy as Hostess, it might be worth keeping a single clever (and inoffensive) faux "oops" in your pocket--at least until Facebook's algorithm learns to interpret the difference.
Have a social media question? Email it to socialmedia at inc.com, and it may appear in a new Inc. column of social media advice.