Who knew that a tweet about “the best buns” could cause so much controversy?

Carrie Fisher Cinnabon Best BunsWhen Carrie Fisher passed away in December of 2016, Cinnabon posted a tribute to the actor by referencing her beloved Star Wars character, Princess Leia, and the resemblance of their buns to her hair.

This message, although not malicious in intent, received a fair amount of backlash. While some people took it in good fun, suggesting Carrie Fisher herself would have enjoyed it, many people took issue with a company using a celebrity death to try to promote their products. The backlash was enough that Cinnabon took down the post and issued an apology.

Balancing Pushing The Envelope Against Social Media Risk Management

In an age where people are completely saturated by brand messaging and advertising, consumers are pickier than ever. This leads to brands coming up with truly innovative campaigns and more focus on authentic engagement in two-way conversations. However, the need to stand out also can lead to hastily thought out messaging that may go against a company’s own branding, rub people the wrong way, or spark a full-on PR crisis.

Social media is a public forum and a minefield of scrutiny, and every time you send out a message, you’re putting your entire reputation on the line. You can’t have reward without risk, but at the same time, you need to do everything you can to mitigate that risk.

Mitigating risk means being aware of all the ways your messaging could possibly miss the mark. It also means being proactive by having a reputation management plan in place.

Factors That Can Make or Break Your Brand Reputation on Social

Before you can plan to manage your risk on social, you must first be intimately aware of all the ways social media can possibly go wrong for your brand.

1. Poor Attempts at Humor

Winston Churchill once said, “A joke is a very serious thing.” No kidding. Finding a brand voice and content that makes people laugh and smile is a precious thing, but if a joke or tone causes offense, it can lose you plenty of goodwill brownie points.

Even brands that do humor well make mistakes. Wendy’s is well known for their Twitter shenanigans, but one day one of their social media managers posted a meme of Pepe The Frog, a character co-opted by the alt-right. It was an innocent mistake, but the backlash was immediate, and they made an apology.

Wendy's Pepe social media response

A misstep like this can completely unravel the goodwill you worked hard to build. However, because they apologized quickly and managed the situation well, they were able to bounce back and continue sassing other fast food chains online.

2. Lack of Proofreading or Editorial Approval

McDonalds Black Friday Social Media Mistake Error

Whoops. McDonald’s tweeted this obvious placeholder out on Black Friday 2017 and immediately were poked fun at all over social media. Wendy’s got a good dig in:

McDonald's Black Friday Wendy's Response

It’s important to ensure you always get multiple eyes on your social media content before it goes out, or you risk looking quite the fool! Spelling matters too – the grammar police are relentless.

3. Insensitivity

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom who comes up with the outrageous messaging that gets attention for all the wrong reasons. Like a car ad where a man tries to kill himself using his car exhaust only to realize to his dismay that it only emits water vapor?

Take the recent H&M “monkey in the jungle” hoodie campaign incident. No one at H&M seemed to noticed the racist connotation, which severely hurt their brand reputation when social media users expressed their outrage.

H&M monkey in the jungle ad

4. Inauthenticity

Not every brand can be Old Spice, Dollar Shave Club or Poo-Pourri. Old Spice has been around since the 1930s, but their path to becoming a brand that creates those wonderfully wacky Terry Crews commercials was a long one.

Being authentic means being true to your brand values, otherwise, you’re just going to confuse and alienate your fan base. For example, this tweet from Domino’s most certainly qualifies as “trying too hard:”

Improper use of slang is cringeworthy at best.

You should also think very carefully about campaigns involving unique hashtags, particularly ones that are self-involved. Hashtags such as #CoalisAmazing by the Australian Mineral Council and #McDStories by McDonald’s were turned right back on those brands with messages of mockery and protest.

McDonald's Stories

5. Inappropriate Use of News and Trends

All social media managers and digital marketers know that jumping on a hot trend or news item is a great way to boost virality. However, this can backfire immensely if you’re trying to hop on a trend that doesn’t relate to your brand values, or if you’re perceived as insensitive in any way.

American Apparel Hurricane Sandy saleThe Cinnabon example at the beginning of this article is a perfect example, not to mention the universally maligned Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad that tried to make light of Black Lives Matter. Or how about tweeting out a sale on clothes specifically to people who are expecting a devastating hurricane?

Which is not to say you can’t take advantage of current events or trends. Oreo managed to win a lot of retweets when it used a major U.S. power outage during The Super Bowl to remind us that we can still “dunk in the dark.” Just make sure you always get second and third opinions on copy and imagery to make sure you’re not going to push any major buttons.

6. Hacking / Fraudulent Accounts / Disgruntled Employees

If you have a high profile brand, you’re at risk of someone either within or outside your company hijacking your brand online. As part of your social media crisis plan, you absolutely must take all of these events into account.

One notorious example includes when hackers took over the official Associated Press Twitter account in 2013, tweeting that there had been an explosion at The White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. This had enormous ramifications as the stock market took a $200 million nosedive.

AP Associated Press White House Explosion tweet

Shell was also made to look foolish when Greenpeace and The Yes Lab created both a fake Shell campaign website and Twitter account for an Arctic drilling campaign. Many people believed them to be legitimate Shell accounts, which ended up spreading propaganda against the company.

As for disgruntled employees, be sure to remove any permissions employees have to access social when they are let go and ensure you can pull the plug on someone if they start going rogue.

7. Staying Quiet During a Crisis

When your brand is in hot water, whether through social media or elsewhere, the last thing you should do is stay silent on social. When a Taco Bell employee posted a prank photo of himself licking a bunch of taco shells, it blew up on the Internet.

Taco Bell lick social media prank

Rather than issue a statement through social media, which is where all the commenters were, the company issued a statement on their website. To make matters worse, overnight they disabled comments on their Facebook page after a wave of backlash. Silencing your customers rather than addressing their concerns is never a good idea.

So how do you make sure you’re proactively managing all of these potential pitfalls?


Manage Your Risk With Social Media Governance

Despite all the major social media gaffes in the news, according to a 2013 survey, 73 percent of companies still didn’t have formal social media policies in place. This is mind-bending, to say the least, as the amount of damage that a brand can suffer on social due to a poorly thought out campaign or a PR crisis is immense.

Having well-defined social media governance will ensure your social media marketing machine runs smoothly; everyone in the organization will know who is responsible for what, and how to respond to the public during a crisis.

Here are the five elements that should be included in any social media governance plan:

1. Social Media Ownership

As an organization, you need to determine not just who owns social media at the top level, but also who leads social efforts in every department, and the responsibilities of each department. Formalizing ownership ensures that no department is ambiguous about what they are responsible for, and ideally no one will drop the ball on their roles.

Keep in mind that as social media changes, so, too, will governance. It’s important to make sure there is a governance team in place, with representatives from all departments involved.

Here’s a sample department responsibility map:

Marketing and Communications

  • Owns social media branding initiatives and channels
  • Plans social media branding strategy
  • Manages community and sentiment monitoring
  • Responsible for brand awareness
  • Assesses and deploys social media solutions
  • Owns social media crisis plan, prepares responses

Information Technology

  • Ensures data privacy on public social media channels
  • Keeps accounts secure from hacking
  • Manages permission to access social media channels

Customer Service

  • Owns social media customer support channels (if separate)
  • Responds to customer inquiries that require support

Legal / HR

  • Ensures all employees are trained in social
  • Social media for recruitment
  • Oversight and audit of social media practices
  • Ensures brand compliance
  • Regulatory and legal issue management

2. Social Media Training and Education

With every employee acting as a potential representative of your company online, social media training is a must. Even an offhand post on Facebook can potentially stir up controversy, so it’s important you establish social media guidelines as a part of new employee onboarding:

  • Basic social media literacy
  • How to set up / optimize personal social profiles
  • Adjusting privacy settings
  • Social media brand guidelines
  • Company photo guidelines

Don’t expect your employees to be mind readers. All employees must be aware of what they are and aren’t allowed to say about the company and its competitors on social! Crisis training specific to social media should also be standard for all your employees, so they know not to discuss the crisis on social or respond to any inquiries from the press.

To get more tips on creating a social media training program from an HR perspective, read this Forbes piece by HR and workplace consultant Jeanne Meister.

3. Branding Guidelines and Continuity Planning

Anyone who is actively communicating through a company’s social media channels must be practicing the company brand guidelines for social. This includes voice, tone, visual identity and other parameters. Is your community manager allowed to use GIFs and memes? Or are you more straightforward and authoritative? All of these elements should be covered in a social media brand guide.

A sample from MailChimp’s content style guide

In order to ensure continuity should your community manager or social media managers leave, you need to make sure all processes and assets are logged, and that any unwritten social media guidelines are ready to be passed on to new employees.

For tips on creating an epic style guide, be sure to look to these tips from Mindscape.

4. Approval Processes

Many social media messaging mishaps could have been avoided altogether if the brand had a better approval process. As much as you trust your social media managers, everyone makes mistakes in judgment. Sometimes it’s just spelling and grammar, but other times you need a sober second thought to let you know if a message or campaign might be missing the mark.

Take the Carrie Fisher Cinnabon post. Chances are there were approval layers on that post, but did they get an HR or legal perspective to see if there could have potentially been something offensive about it? It may seem like a buzzkill, but having that perspective can save your brand from landing in hot water in the first place.

To make sure you get all the right eyes on planned content before it goes out, use a social media tool such as HeyOrca that offers a multi-stage approval process, so selected content will not go live until it has been approved by the right set of people.

5. A Crisis Plan

Finally, have a social media crisis plan in place for your brand. Whether a crisis originated on or off social media, you’ll likely receive a large chunk of backlash through your social channels. Your plan should take into full account all of the roles in your social media ownership document, so everyone in every department knows their roles in the response.

A quick and well-thought-out response can completely diffuse a situation, so it’s important to rehearse these roles and be prepared to respond to any situation. The No. 1 rule is: “Don’t be silent for too long.” The longer you wait to address legitimate concerns, the less likely it is to blow over. Just don’t take half measures. Make sure you’re transparent about how your brand is taking care of the issues at hand.

Be sure to read our guide on how to put together a complete crisis plan.

If you liked this post, be sure to share it with others who would find it useful! If you’re curious about how HeyOrca can easily add an approval layer to all of your social media posts to proactively manage your messaging, you can read more on our solution page.