Going Viral

Jeff Lutz – VP, Corporate Communications & Content

For many prospective and current clients, the idea of having that big moment over social media can be extremely intoxicating. We all want to think we’re the ones creating the “viral moment.” But what happens when there’s a viral moment and you weren’t the one to start it? More so, what if the moment is happening and it doesn’t align with your company’s values?

Here are some tweets sent out by recognizable brands in response to a very recent moment:

Detroit Free Press: This just In

Aer Lingus: We’re dimming the lights for takeoff

Groupon: How likely would you be to recommend us to a friend?

Innocent enough, huh? What is the big deal? Here’s the tweet that drew those responses. (Warning: NSFW)

Oh. Right.

Are you now thinking differently about the companies’ posts? Are you confused about why such brands would jump into the fray? Well, they weren’t alone. Let’s examine further.

The Moment

The theme that led to the Netflix US tweet started at the end of November. In every case, the question asked for a phrase you could say during sex and during some other activity. For a week or so, similar tweets would go out and each would get a smattering of responses. Nothing big to see here.

At first, I remember thinking the responses were very petty. There was an associated meme that went with, one that was repeated ad nauseum.

The reason the Netflix post worked so well was it hit those managing Twitter brand accounts. At that moment, brand teams went into overdrive because Netflix US was responding to each post. Twitter brand managers from various large companies were coming together to create a moment. In a silo, it’s just a tongue-in-cheek moment. However, social media is no silo.

The Reaction

After the Netflix US post on December 5, the drumbeat of responses was steady and impressive to watch. It started with some consumer brands – from foods to other digital platforms – and in sure succession, Netflix US would follow up with a witty comment of its own. Rinse and repeat. By the next day, media outlets were reporting on the ongoing social craze and trying to bring in experts to describe what was happening and whether it made sense. For example, NBC News.

There were three styles of tweeted responses. Brands would 1) post their exact slogan, which, taken in context, was meant to have a humorous tilt; 2) make a slight revision to their slogan for comedic effect; or 3) submit something simply to drive a reaction (note the vulgar NSFW tweet from Kettle Brand Chips). In the moment, there was little time to shame or criticize, because the next brand would come along, make a statement and create a diversion for another moment.

The Fallout

This is the TBD element. The lingering question is, will there be any negative backlash to a social post with tawdry overtones? If a brand speaks to audiences that include minors or others who might be offended by the context, can it act as if nothing happened? Business Insider noted, “Netflix just made it safe for companies to joke about sex on Twitter.” Are we really okay with that?

The bigger question is not about whether there will be fallout, but instead what causes a brand to respond in that moment? Do we who manage social handles have a fear of missing out mentality? How about those of us who manage brands outside our existing walls? What should our mentality be when a moment like this comes about?

It’s important to remember social posts do not happen in a bubble. Today’s delight may be tomorrow’s disaster. Our approach cannot be designed on FOMO; it should be built on solid strategy and perceptive brand awareness.

Hart’s Analysis

We must ask: what did this look like internally from one brand to the next? In these situations, it’s not just the social teams making decisions. Frequently, communications and business leadership, and sometimes legal entities, are brought into the fold. Did one company after the next go through this process and think, “Nothing to see here”?

This will likely be a one-and-done moment. When our agency considered whether our social clients should be participating, we asked three key questions:

  1. Is there value in participating?
  2. What does posting say about our own values?
  3. Are we beholden to viral moments to define our social strategy?

As one should, we looked at the moment under the weight of our brand and NOT the weight of the moment.

We’ve frequently had internal debates on how far brands should go in speaking to social positions. This moment was no different – it created an instance when a social handle has to either stand aligned with its represented brand or sit in some separate sphere. If we are now operating in an atmosphere where moments are somehow decoupled from a brand and its values, then we must rethink why our brands operate on these transient networks.

To discuss this topic and others that impact your brand on social media, contact:

Jeff Lutz VP, Corporate Communications & Content