The Social Media Cocktail Party: How to keep it shaking, not stirred

This article is crossposted via the All Things WOM Blog.

Say it with me, “Social media is a ____________” That”™s right, cocktail party, or so the saying goes. Brands increasingly realize the value of listening and participating in online conversations. Ask yourself, which brands would you want to invite into such close company? I”™d bet the Geico Gecko would be a great conversationalist, the Pillsbury Doughboy would keep the crowd chuckling, and who wouldn”™t love to discuss the benefits of AARP membership over a cocktail with the sensational Betty White?

Guest lists aside, how should brands behave in this social environment? We often talk about humanizing a brand but how should they behave at the party? Let”™s take a look at some age-old hospitality cues for insight into keeping the party copacetic.

Topics to avoid in polite company

Sex. Religion. Politics. “Taboo” topics that nevertheless find themselves front and center in the social sphere.  Should your “humanized brand” enter the fray on these divisive topics? Sure, if you”™re prepared to sacrifice control of the conversation on your social channels as a tide of supporters and adversaries wage an ideological war on your turf.

This is the case for Chick-fil-A, which has lost control of their brand narrative after comments from conservative president Dan Cathy about same-sex marriage transformed conversation on their social channels from waffle fry and chicken obsessed fans into a heated debate from both sides of the marriage equality issue.

Despite social posts from the restaurant chain attempting to withdraw from the debate, conversation has yet to return to the food on the menu. If you can”™t stand the heat””maybe it”™s best to head back into the kitchen and serve up great food, not fodder for debate.

What to do with gate crashers

Ever turned to a friend at a party and muttered, “Who let THAT guy in?” In social media, THAT guy has an invite just like the rest of us.

Brands are at the mercy of their employees whose social activity, whether sanctioned or not, is an extension of the brand itself. Burger King experienced this recently when an employee posted a photo of himself standing on containers of lettuce and boasting, “This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King.” 

Aided by an unlikely group of heroes, users of the internet forum 4chan, Burger King was able to identify and fire the responsible parties and issue a statement within 12 hours of the original post.  Perhaps it”™s because the internet has bigger chicken fish to fry, but the relatively tame public response to the incident shows a valuable lesson: timing is everything. When a rogue employee posts something damaging about your brand socially, acknowledging and addressing the issue quickly is better than turning a blind eye and hoping that it will go away. Better yet, institute a social policy that informs your employees what is and is not acceptable social behavior.

Just like real life cocktail parties, gaffes and scandals are bound to happen in social media. As brands, when you consider “who” you ought to be at the party, it is probably best to act the charismatic host rather than the cantankerous debater or even the uptight killjoy: be authentic, be courteous, and be conscious of how your actions reflect your brand.

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