The Woolworths “Fresh in our memories” Anzac Day fail a go-to example for Australian marketers to use when talking about social media stuff-ups.
Commentators were quick to mock Woolies for the very off-key, awkward plastering of Anzac Day with its ‘Fresh’ slogan, coupled with a tool that essentially wrote the parodies itself.
Jokes aside, there’s a very valuable lesson here for any brand who’s active in social media: know the risks. Think about how people will react. Understand what you need to do to stay within the law.
Risk by association
One angle to this saga was the question of whether Woolies had permission to use the word ‘Anzac’ at all. There’s actually a law, the Protection of Word Anzac Act 1920, which puts the Department of Veterans Affairs in charge of granting permission for ‘Anzac’ to be used by marketers.
Brands that really want to get involved could work around explicitly mentioning Anzac. Advertisers do this sort of thing all the time when rights are involved; in recent Super Bowl campaigns, companies that aren’t NFL sponsors have started referring to it as ‘The Big Game’.
But Anzac Day is a little bigger than any game and any marketer simply applying the same logic has sorely missed the point.
It’s not just a federal law that brands are testing, it’s common decency. And here’s why the Woolies story wasn’t really about them breaking the law. Ultimately, social media is a people’s court, and whether something is acceptable or not is determined by public opinion, retweets and online petitions.
The people have the power
The advent of social media has shifted the balance of power from brands towards consumers. As a digital marketer, I’ve been trumpeting the old “social media means letting go of control” cliché to clients for the best part of a decade.
Social media is a good thing for companies. It’s an opportunity, but it’s not without its risks. Companies need to understand that social media gives the power to individual voices to be amplified very loudly indeed. For well-intentioned activists, that’s a wonderful thing. For vicious trolls, it can mean the undoing of a company.
I’ve also noticed that there’s a difference between offending your target audience and offending wider sensibilities. Louie the Fly was trashed recently for posting in memoriam of Stephanie Scott, which he (well, Reckitt Benckiser) had to apologise for. But a look at Louie’s Facebook page shows the audience – anecdotally, at least – was happy the post was made in the first place.
The world is littered with brands and people that market very well to their specific audience, and are proudly indifferent to everyone else. American Apparel and Sports Illustrated are loudly scorned for their photos of scantily clad women, but their target market is still buying tights-as-pants and swimsuit issues.
And, even after all the apologies and retractions, Kyle Sandilands is still on the air.
When content jumps beyond your intended audience
But as Mr Sandilands (and his employers and advertisers) know, there’s a moment where your content steps outside your purview – a tipping point when something goes viral.
The spread of viral content can be traced like a real virus. Neither the Ice Bucket Challenge nor Gangnam Style took over the world as soon as they were created. They both had key moments where media outlets and celebrities with large followings got involved. Only then did they gather real momentum.
Social media users love jumping on a bandwagon. Unfortunately, all too often that means getting out their pitchforks. Once the squeaky wheels get that tipping point, their message is well-oiled and hurtling straight towards the inevitable knee-jerk press release.
We’ve seen this recently in Australia with the anti-halal movement, with at least one company bowing to the pressure and losing a lucrative client as a result.
Social media is inherently risky
It would be grossly misleading of me or any other digital marketer to suggest that social media is all opportunity and no risk. I’m sure plenty of self-appointed Social Media Expert Gurus™ have left this point out of their snake oil sales pitch.
My advice is simply to be prepared.
Before you post something, pre-empt how your audience is going to react. Think about the questions they will have and have your answers ready to go.
Before you invite user-generated content – let alone build a tool that will let people make it using your logo or imagery – think about how it could be used.
Before you launch a social media presence, document who is empowered to respond, and accountable to answer or approve anything. Know who you’ll escalate anything to that can’t be answered – or poses a risk to your brand or audience.
In all cases, embrace the opportunity of social media, but be aware of the risks and the speed at which things can go south.
The growing heap of hijacked campaigns bear testament to the fact that social media is incredibly unpredictable. Our challenge as digital marketers, content creators, and community managers, is to predict what’s likely, and plan for the worst.
Before you get involved, think about the very worst thing that could happen – however unlikely. For Anzac Day and other topical events, we’ve recently seen a few worst-case scenarios – although I’d say that the likelihood of people abusing a meme generator wasn’t incredibly far-fetched.
Should your brand be posting about Anzac Day? Only if you’ve weighed up the risk of the possible outcomes and you’re still happy to get involved.
Does your brand plan social around sensitive calendar dates? Let Quiip help you plan your content in 2018 with our FREE Social Media Strategy & Planning Guide.