Every day, about 500 million tweets on average are getting posted on Twitter, one million links are shared on Facebook, and 60 million pictures are uploaded onto Instagram. And everyday something new is buzzing over social – whether it’s a new Apple release, a challenge getting people to dump water on their head in the name of charity, or even a video of frat boys’ lip-syncing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Regardless of what it is, this type of new technological era has sped up the process of sharing and receiving news.

More than ever, brands are feeling the pressure to think up tactics and strategies to keep up with this constant flow of new information to engage with their consumers. But publishing at a breakneck pace can lead to mistakes and blunders. This is a similar issue news publications are also dealing with – does the need to be first outweigh the need to be accurate?

Brands are becoming quick to jump on trending topics, hoping for this to equal real-time gold. However, just like journalists have learned, jumping in on trends before actually understanding them can land them in hot water.

When Things Go Wrong, Apologize

Recently, DiGiorno, typically a real-time darling on social media, joined in on the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed. #WhyIStayed was originally created to raise awareness of domestic violence across women after a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer surfaced on the web. Thousands of women used #WhyIStayed on Twitter to share their abusive experiences in their relationships, but DiGiorno didn’t look into its context before joining in on the conversation:

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The tweet that caused an uproar. (Photo: Twitter)

Realizing their mistake, DiGiorno immediately took down the tweet and apologized. The way DiGiorno handled the backlash is something to take note of. Rather than acting like nothing happened, they apologized right away and even personally apologized to every single person who called them out.

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DiGiorno connects with twitter users to apologize directly.

DiGiorno owned up to their slip-up, whereas the brands who don’t take this route and instead try to get defensive or pretend like nothing happened are typically roasted by fellow social media users..

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Digiorno genuinely apologizing for their mistake. (Photo: Twitter)

More and more, brands want to develop a personality and be treated like a person instead of a corporation. But brands don’t get to pick and choose what parts of personhood they want to engage in. If a brand wants people to view them as a friend, then they better be able to apologize like a friend when they do something wrong. This means creating a strategy for when things go a little off-kilter.

What Not to Do

On the other side of the scale is Bikram Arlington Yoga who, unlike DiGiorno, failed to own up to their mistake when their offensive tweet received major backlash. The owners of the studio used the Sept. 11 attacks to promote a sale tweeting, “9 + 11 = 20% OFF! PATRIOT DAY SALE.” Not only was the tweet taken down later in the day, but the co-owner of the studio blamed it on “yoga brain” and  also went as far as defending themselves rather than just owning up to their mistake and apologizing.


Bikram Arlington’s response to their initial tweet. (Photo: Huffington Post)

“Sorry you guys didn’t like our sale. Don’t buy,” Frank Machnick, owner of the studio said,

“But don’t flame us. Geez.” Machnick made the mistake of not being sensitive and aware of the cultural sentiment around the tragedy, and so their tweets and “apologies” came off as callous and tasteless. The most important thing to learn from this is that companies and brands shouldn’t touch on controversial trending topics no matter what their intentions are because often times people misinterpret them. This then makes the company look bad and insensitive towards their customers. Instead, when it comes to tragedy, it may be better to take a page out of Verizon’s book:

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If brands want to incorporate trending hashtags to their tweets, then there are resources that can help brands familiarize themselves with them. One website called What the Trend helps people identify current trends and their meanings behind them. Often times people can misinterpret hashtags (like DiGiorno) and if they had taken the extra step in finding out what the hashtag meant, then they could have saved themselves some trouble. Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.42.33 PM.png

Trendsmap is another great way to search for trending hashtags, but by location. This site allows users to find and create custom content tailored to the trending topics in the specific areas. In the map, stronger trends are represented by larger, darker lettering while those that aren’t trending as much are shown in a lighter coloring. This is a great tool when you want to create custom tweet campaigns and need to look for trending topics with certain demographics.

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Lastly, the greatest resource is something marketing teams can create themselves: a strategy for when things go wrong. Create guidelines and rules for all the situations you can think of – whether it’s a joke falling flat or accidentally offending a large group of people. Your entire team should know when they respond, delete, or escalate issues.

Being fast has it’s benefits – especially on social media where one minute something is trending and the next it’s forgotten. However, more important than simply interjecting the brand’s voice in a topic is joining in a dialogue with fans, and that takes really understanding the conversation. Brands who do their research and own up to mistakes will be the best at developing this dialogue and community.

About The Author

Mayu is an avid avocado eater who daydreams about living by the beach with her future big fluffy dog named Benji.

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