‘Look before you leap’ also applies to social media campaigns

By Doug Lacombe – Columnist, Troy Media (http://www.troymedia.com)

CALGARY, AB – As a teenager I spent a lot of time in the pool at the YMCA. Training to be a lifeguard, teaching and practicing, I reeked of chlorine most of the time.

In the summers I did the same at camp. One thing I was taught over and over was to avoid diving into unknown waters. You might bonk your head and drown or injure your spine. This truism applies to many aspects of life, including social media.

Lots of so-called experts say to corporate communicators, “dive right in, the water’s fine”. Do so and you might find yourself underwater and fast.

Just ask the folks at Sleeman Breweries. It would seem they let the equivalent of a frat boy loose on their @PabstCanada Twitter account this week (a brand they brew under license) and boy did they hit bottom. The text of the tweet seemed innocuous enough at first: “Rule #1 at Club Tropicana”, but the accompanying pic was of a chalkboard on which was written “No Fat Chicks!”


The American @PabstBlueRibbon account (unrelated except by name) almost instantly chastised them, saying: “That’s really shitty. I know you guys are owned by Sleeman up there, but you should delete and apologize.”

That’s another thing they taught us in lifeguard class – drowning people almost always try to climb on top of you, often resulting in two deaths. Best to either get behind and control the situation or, if necessary, keep some distance until they tire and can be controlled.

@PabstBlueRibbon wasn’t going down with @PabstCanada; they made sure of that.

In another recent case, Progressive Insurance got caught in a tidal wave of negative sentiment sparked by one blog post by angered comedian and grieving brother Matt Fisher.

As reported on Money.CNN.com “The company’s crisis began . . . when a customer’s sibling (Fisher) published a Tumblr post with the kind of headline public-relations people have nightmares about: ‘My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court’ . . .

Fisher’s blog post went viral overnight and was re-shared on Tumblr more than 10,000 times. The Internet hive turned savagely on Progressive . . .”

Progressive, already going down for the third time, managed to make things worse by robotically tweeting boilerplate assurances clearly concocted and approved by legal.

As Business Insider reported last week “Progressive Insurance has agreed to pay ‘tens of thousands’ more in addition to the court-mandated $75,000 in a bid to end the public relations nightmare . . .”

While Progressive was clearly taking in water, the flood of public opinion was more unpredictable for southern U.S. fast food chain Chick-fil-A.

Earlier this summer Chick-fil-A’s COO Dan Cathy made public statements against same sex marriage to the media. Naturally lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups protested, but so did the mayors of Boston and Chicago. Much of the protest played out on social media channels, seemingly feeding off mainstream media coverage and vice-versa.

At one point the Jim Henson Company announced it would cease its business relationship with Chick-fil-A. It’s gotta be pretty bad when the Muppets are against you, right? Sadly, wrong. Supporters rallied behind the Baptist-rooted fast food chain and held a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” which generated record-breaking sales in spite of all the digital protest. Whether Cathy’s comments and the ensuing social tsunami will have any impact on future sales remains to be seen. Cathy dove straight into murky waters and, for now at least, appears to have avoided hitting rock bottom.

But why, when the social web was clearly calling for Chick-fil-A to be walked off the plank?

Techcrunch, in an article entitled “Chick-Fil-A Is Actually Popular: How Social Media Distorts Your View of The World” has a fascinating two-part explanation: Young people, who often dominate social media, have a bigger bark than bite. Conservatives are likely late tech adopters.

Just like the infamous inaccurate 1948 headline “Dewey beats Truman”, we can only conclude so much from the non-random sample that is social media. Nonetheless it seems fair to conclude that having the masses attack you can’t be good either, even if they are merely “slacktivists”.

Better to dip your toes into those waters than dive in head first – otherwise you might get brained.

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