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Social Fail or Ultimate PR Strategy?

Social Fail or Ultimate PR Strategy?

[By Jason Mollica]

We’ve seen it quite often on social networks: A brand posts something on their Facebook or Twitter account that’s inappropriate, and it gets grilled like a hamburger from your local pub. In mid-October, IHOP became the latest brand to feel the wrath of the Twitter faithful when it made a vague comparison to a female body part.

While some didn’t seem to mind the play on words, others were incredibly offended. The incident becomes another example of what many say is a “social media fail.” This means that a brand or person didn’t take the time to think about what they were going to post, leading to undue criticism and numerous blog posts focusing on what went wrong.

But, what if the tweet that IHOP sent out wasn’t really a “fail,” but part of their overall public relations strategy? Let me explain.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that brands are trying to be edgy with their tweets. Fast food chains like Taco Bell try to connect with their audiences by “speaking” the same language. They’ll use the popular words like “bae” and “on fleek,” and even tweak song lyrics to fit certain products. Even Major League Baseball has gotten in on the act over the last year using “#This.” as part of their web and social marketing campaign.

Let’s flashback to 2011. Kenneth Cole famously tweeted out that people in Egypt were rising up because of his new fall line. Of course, that wasn’t the reason. The uprising was part of the Egyptian people calling for the removal of Hosni Mubarak. The tweet was met with an overwhelmingly negative reaction on social networks. Some vowed to boycott the brand, while others tweeted at the Cole Twitter account with their rage.

While Cole apologized for the tweet in a post to Facebook, two years later he admitted that he never really meant it. Cole confirmed that he writes most of the tweets on the @KennethCole account himself, including the Egypt tweet.  He described his Twitter strategy as attempting to say something offensive in order to get exposure. He even stated that he wasn’t really sorry because company stock went up that very day, its e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of their stores improved, and Kenneth Cole picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter.  Cole said, “So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”

If the head of the brand feels that pushing the envelope is a good strategy and the numbers show that it was effective, was it really a fail? As a person who provides guidance to CEOs, other PR pros, and business leaders, I would never feel comfortable developing a strategy around potentially negative social communications. It may have worked for Kenneth Cole, but that doesn’t mean it would work for a brand like Under Armour.

It also means that no matter how much guidance PR pros give to the C-Suite, if the CEO isn’t on board or “goes rogue,” all the PR strategy in the world will not matter. While the likes of IHOP and Kenneth Cole use their social networks to get eyes, and hopefully dollars, it’s important to remember that a sound strategy is one that doesn’t need to go negative or play on pop culture.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to know with your comments below.

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