Social media can be a powerful tool by which you can invite your community to engage with you and your brand. It should be noted, though, that there are no guarantees in terms of where communications may be headed. In some cases, it can turn out to be a complete PR disaster such as with the Twitter chat with hashtag #AskJameis on Twitter with Jameis Winston, Florida State University's quarterback with a controversial past which resulted in numerous critical tweets, many with a rather morbid “humorous” twist.
As I have not personally followed the past of Mr. Winston, I am not going to comment upon the specifics of his past and whether he deserves this criticism or not. Instead, I will focus on what organizations can do to avoid facing a backlash from their social media initiatives such as on Twitter like Florida State did. These kinds of reactions, also known as “Twitterjacking,” can happen to not only sports franchises but also to big global brands such as McDonald's which experienced a major backlash in 2012 to to their invitation to state their own #McDStories on Twitter.
The thing that many brands fail to recognize is that there are some tactics that can be employed to minimize the risks of your social media initiatives turning against you. In this post, I will focus on some such tactics that involve the engagement of a VIP list composed of your most loyal fans or clients:
- Build a VIP email list composed of your most engaged evangelists or supporters. This group could be recruited by studying previous engagement on your various social media platforms or online communities and while you could reward such individuals with some special deals, in many cases, the simple recognition of their efforts by designating VIP labels or the like is sufficient motivation for them at least in the beginning. Depending on your industry, the VIP list could consist of users, fans, customers, followers, etc.
- Test your campaign idea with your VIP email list before taking it public. This could be done for example by asking the VIPs to provide ratings of specific social media campaign options that you are considering. If you sense that there is a high likelihood of an initiative such as a Twitter chat with your quarterback evoking negative brand associations, perhaps you should hold off with the particular idea for the time being. This is not a waterproof method, however, and it should be recognized that by turning to your strongest fans, you are not asking a representative sample of mainstream fans/followers on social media. Still, your biggest fans are also likely to be aware of the word on the street regarding your brand, perhaps even more closely than you are.
- Ask your VIP/Gold members/evangelists for input regarding what campaign options that they suggest that you go for. By not presenting them with complete campaign details but rather involving your biggest fans and evangelists in the new campaign design and creation process, they will feel a stronger sense of ownership of the process and are then more likely to keep helping you spread good word-of-mouth regarding your brand. This could be done in phases so that you involve your VIPs both at the beginning, middle, and end of your campaign creating process.
- Invite your VIP list to be active once the initiative is launched. This is critical for the campaign to get off to a good start. By alerting and reminding your VIPs about when it will happen and getting them on board in the conversations could help balance any possible negative backlashes that you may be facing. Perhaps you could even invite some of your VIPs to serve as moderators during a Twitter chat, for example, so that you have more voices ready to respond to or comment on upcoming issues. Even if they would not be official spokespeople of your brand, they could help provide a sense that there is someone listening to possible complaints and concern about the brand which you may otherwise not have time for if there are thousands of tweets posted during an hour.
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