Tragedy is not the same as opportunity: If you’re going to play the social media game, know the rules

Though it’s no longer a novel platform, social media is still a dangerous game. And many brands, in spite of their enormous marketing teams, their eager social media strategists and experts, their multi-million dollar budgets and their bureaucracy-infused, nightmarish approval processes, still haven’t figured it out.

The danger of social media lies in its power. When used right, social media can turn of-the-moment news into brilliant brand alignment. Smart, unique perspectives on news that is captivating the world can turn into internet fodder that spreads like wildfire and immediately catapults a brand into the spotlight. That’s one hell of a selling point for a brand manager. The problem is that it has to happen live, moment to moment, which means the thought that goes into it is often short-lived and, well, often times, not a demonstration of any real thought at all.

Last week, Prince died. Cheerios tweeted an image in Prince purple that read ‘rest in peace,’ featuring a Cheerio in place of the dot over the “i” and accompanied by the hashtag #prince. Not surprisingly, the people of the world asked the obvious questions: why would Cheerios send out a tweet about Prince? Are they rooted in funk and rock n’ roll or in any way connected to outspoken politically-active musicians? Did Prince at one time represent the brand? If you asked him what he had for breakfast, even though he said starfish and coffee, did he really mean Cheerios? Or did they simply, and awkwardly, want to try and take advantage of a moment that was at the forefront of the national and cultural zeitgeist? The internet, of course, is a place of brutality and mockery, and Cheerios received its fair share of both. It was well deserved; the brand quickly pulled the tweet.

The internet was intelligently picking up on the brand’s disingenuousness. No place is more in tune with what’s true and what’s fake designed to play on people’s emotions than the world of social media. In the case of Cheerios, and others like it, it’s often times actually quite offensive. Anthony Jeselnik, the stand up comedian, said it best that sharing your public “thoughts and prayers mean f-ing nothing.” When tragedy happens, don’t think you’re doing the victims of that event a favor by tweeting some empty platitude. All you’re doing is yelling into the void so that the spotlight might return to you.

The point is a simple one: tragedy is not the same as opportunity. Headlines news, cultural movements, worldwide catastrophes and the like only present an opportunity for your brand if it makes sense for your brand identity, if it’s true to who you are and what you stand for, and if you can offer some intelligent, unique perspective on it not yet offered.

Social media is not that new. It’s time brands learned how to use it.

Doug Jacob is CEO and founder of JWALK

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.