When Brands Should (and Shouldn’t) Join the Online Conversation

Building brand awareness used to be a simpler proposition. Pre-internet, if you had the money to buy a high-profile TV slot and a newspaper spread, you pretty much had it made.

Things have gotten a little more complicated over the past decade or so. The average Brit now spends almost 20 hours a week online, rising to more than 22 hours among millennials.

For brands, this clearly represents a huge opportunity. Consumers check Instagram during their commute, shop online at lunch, and scroll through Twitter to keep up with the latest news. But it also presents a major challenge: how do you cut through the noise?

One tactic is to join in with online conversations that are relevant to your target audience – and to do it earlier or more effectively than your competitors. If you’re going to create any form of content around a trend (whether it’s a simple tweet, some more complex visuals, or an entire campaign), we recommend reading on…


Be true to your brand voice

As internet usage continues to grow, we’re becoming increasingly savvy online. That means people will spot a fraud a mile off.

If you’re trying to force your voice into a conversation that doesn’t really relate to you, or speak in a manner that doesn’t reflect your brand, people will notice. What’s more, given that we’re discussing the internet, they’ll probably be mean about you too.

Here, we take a look at some notable examples of brands and public figures who have fallen a little wide of the mark in their attempts to appear relevant, and the key learnings we can take from them.


Sonos: Know your audience


Sonos is a big name in high-end wireless audio systems. A quick look at YouGov Profiles tells us that their average UK customer is male, aged between 40 and 54, and slightly right of centre politically, with a job in law, finance or business. In short, probably not the sort of person to respond well to the word “bae”.

This is the sort of confused messaging that can negatively affect your brand. After all, given that Sonos’ products start at £169, it makes little sense for this brand to target teen buyers (or people who speak like them).


Hillary Clinton: Millennials don’t communicate solely in emojis


As the Democratic candidate for the US presidency, Hillary Clinton has something of a vested interest in engaging young voters. Student loan debt is a superb angle, with two-fifths of 18 to 24-year-olds in the US enrolled in college.

But she (or at least her social media team) did more harm than good with the tone of this tweet. The idea that students are only able to discuss complex issues in emoji form is patronising to say the least, and unlikely to win much support among this demographic.

That being said, when it comes to US presidential candidates, Clinton is only the second worst exponent of social media…

We’re not sure what the key learning is from this, except maybe “don’t tweet about celebrity relationships if you’re one day going to run for president”.


ASB Bank: Don’t use tired, lazy slang

ASB Bank

Twitter is a great tool when it comes to community-building and perpetuating your brand values, allowing you to engage with your customers in a real, human way. But there’s a fine line between “friendly” and “over-friendly”. It’s fair to say ASB Bank crossed that line (the key takeaway here could just as easily be “don’t sleaze on your customers”).

But most importantly, take a look at the above graph. “Netflix and chill” may once, briefly, regrettably have been considered clever and funny, but it’s clear that interest waned almost immediately. This is exactly the sort of tired, overused slang term that brands should avoid, unless they’ve built up a solid reputation for irony.


The Contemporary Home: Don’t be tenuous


Just because something big has happened in the world, this doesn’t give brands free rein to comment on it or make it about them. Take the birth of Princess Charlotte: undeniably a major event, and one that could conceivably be of interest to the audience of household accessories retailer The Contemporary Home.

A simple “It’s a girl!” tweet, accompanied by imagery of a Contemporary Home room-set, would have worked really well here. Instead, The Contemporary Home used the event to launch a competition to win a “button trinket box”. This just comes across as needy, and frankly a little bizarre.


50 Cent: Be extremely careful over tragedies


Should brands tweet about tragedies at all? Opinion is very much divided. On one hand, it’s human nature to convey sympathy and support. On the other, there are few things more likely to garner terrible publicity for your brand than a distasteful response to a horrendous event.

One thing’s for certain: if you’re going to react to a tragedy, there are very few instances in which it’s acceptable to mention your products or services. Google and Skype offered free calls to France in the wake of last November’s Paris attacks, which came across as a genuine effort to help. Rapper 50 Cent, on the other hand, sparked outrage with the above tweet. As a brand, it’s pretty much always better to be “more Google” than “more 50 Cent”.


Final thought


As a brand, even your most loyal customer is unlikely to consider you a friend. It’s vital that you bear this in mind with the content you create, particularly when it comes to social media. Slip up and you won’t simply be immediately forgiven, or awarded the benefit of the doubt. But if you’re genuine, authentic and empathetic to the needs of your audience, you’ll reap the rewards.

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