It’s hard to put a finger on it – but there's something in the way many big businesses use social media that always seems a bit contrived. Is it the corporate tone? Is the humour just a little bit too forced?
Yet another scenario that's become the stuff of nightmares for the highly-paid corporate image-makers is the tweet or post that tries to be just a little too clever, and backfires disastrously as a consequence.
Take British multinational grocery mega-chain Tesco, for example, which found itself embroiled in a huge calamity in January 2013 after investigators found that its Everyday Value burgers contained almost one third horse meat.
While the company did remove all offending products from its shelves, the main reason the scandal remained in the headlines was the fact that an unfortunately worded, pre-scheduled tweet was published not long after.
An otherwise-innocuous phrase – "It's sleepy time so we're off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more" – took on a whole new, embarrassing meaning under the circumstances.
An apology was later issued on Twitter: "That tweet was scheduled before we knew of the current situation. We'd never intend to make light of it", and full-page adverts were placed in several national newspapers, vowing to ensure this "never happens again".
As the Victorian Taxi Commission discovered recently, another danger area in social media marketing is appealing for user-generated content, such as the time baseball giant the New York Mets invited its fans to tell them “why they love the team” (despite several years of terrible performances).
Pithy responses to the hashtag #ImAMetsFanBecause included: “My parents didn't love me as a child”; “I'm mentally unstable!”; “I am a masochist, and often feel the urge to punish myself”; “I'm an idiot”; plus “I love to complain, and I appreciate having a good cry over sporting events, and also because I hate myself”!
Global burger chain McDonald's #McDStories hashtag, which was part of an invitation for customers to “share their positive experiences”, famously came unstuck in a similar way.
Although admittedly this happened back in 2012 (basically the infancy of social media!!), the company was on a hiding to nothing from the start – one of the most memorable (former) customer responses being:
“Hospitalised for food poisoning after eating McDonalds in 1989. Never ate there again and became a Vegetarian. Should have sued!”
While there are plenty of other unfortunate examples and incidents, it’s the concept of simple honesty (and integrity) that should be the focus here.
As opposed to coming unstuck trying to emulate the (hit or miss) social media strategies of big business, it's better/safer for small businesses to be truthful and transparent in all their online marketing activities, and avoid resorting to various tricks and techniques that, more often than not, cause a lot more hassle than they're worth.