Social responsibility

It’s no secret that for many social media has become more than just a place to store holiday snaps and contact old college friends. Checking our newsfeed in the morning is now as much a part of our daily routine as brushing our teeth; 55% of UK users tweet about what they’re doing at any one moment. Let’s be honest, most of us would rather cut off our right arms than be cut off from our online access to friends, family and girls we don’t like from high school.

There’s no questioning social’s success and usability when it comes to integrating into everyday life. But what can that mean for brands? Can social be utilised as a sure-fire way to see and be seen by your audience? Or should it be left alone, a place where consumers can close their eyes to advertising and concentrate on the important things in life – Cheryl Cole’s shotgun wedding and Kim and Kanye’s baby backlash. Unsurprisingly, the platforms would argue the former. Twitter recently announced plans to roll out a new tool to help marketers make the most of ‘Everyday Moments’ – predictable points in social media users’ days that brands can use to create conversation. But left to their own devices, how easy is it for businesses to interpret this information and behaviour to create interesting, engaging content that hits the mark with their target audience?

Not very, if KLM’s recent real-time fail during the World Cup is anything to go by. The Dutch airline took a slight misstep on Twitter as they celebrated The Netherlands 2-1 win over Mexico with a racially insensitive tweet that received a hostile response across the platform. Despite its poor execution, however, KLM at least demonstrated some understanding of the need for real-time tweeting, with content that was relevant to the World Cup and millions of fans.

Recognising that certain events make more sense to get on board with than others seems to be something of a struggle for marketers. Where there’s a hot topic of conversation on social, there’ll be a hundred and one brands clamouring to be part of it. And relevance is usually the first to fall by the wayside. Take the birth of royal baby Prince George last summer – we saw big brands, small brands and brands that should know better falling over themselves to show us how quick and clever they are. But the problem with forced tweets and posts like Regus’ ‘3 ways Regus Businessworld helps new parents like Wills and Kate stay close to their families #royalbaby’, is that fans and followers see right through them. Which is why it’s important to be authentic. Think quality over quantity; there’s no point in taking up space on a user’s feed if all it does is get on their nerves. Facebook measures a brand’s success on the level of engagement it receives, not the level of content it outputs. So it’s wise to make sure that whatever it is you’re talking about makes sense to you as a brand, and not be afraid to sit things out every once in a while.

That’s not to say it’s not all doom and gloom on social (phew). Slip-ups are an occupational hazard, but some brands have shown it’s possible to bring themselves back from the brink of disaster. The Red Cross recovered admirably when an employee accidently tweeted about ‘gettngslizzard’ on the brand’s account instead of their own, by assuring followers they needn’t worry because they’d confiscated the keys. The beer brand referenced in the tweet got involved too, using the #gettngslizzard hashtag to encourage donations to the Red Cross. A stellar example of real-time recovery, and all for a good cause.

And there are those who get it right first time. Gluten-free bread brand Genius showed it truly understands social with its clever #ToastTheChampions campaign during the Commonwealth Games. Fans tweeted messages of support to the athletes which were then digitally printed on slices of Genius toast and shared across their social networks. Simple, relevant and all in real-time. And proof that it’s not always the biggest brands that do it best.

There’s no question that social media can be a bit of a minefield. And it’s almost certain you’ll make mistakes along the way – just ask KLM. But it’s that vulnerability that makes audiences more open to brands’ attempts to reach out online. For the first time marketers and consumers are on the same page and learning to talk to one another. Which doesn’t mean your audience won’t give you a hard time if you put a toe out of line. But if brands can keep their cool and learn to deal with any social disturbances properly, like the Red Cross, they could walk away with a stronger following and reinforced image. A dangerous game for giants who’ve always had the loudest voices and centre stage, who’ll perhaps have to tread a little more carefully on social than they have with traditional media. But they should see that, used properly, social is a huge opportunity to make their marketing a little more human, a chance to talk to audiences rather than at them. (Even more so for smaller start-ups and fledgling companies looking to make a connection.) And any brand that can learn to share the spotlight with its audience, recognise social opportunities as and when they arise and act on them quickly and effectively is, to quote Adweek’s Tim Nudd, worth its weight in Oreos.