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How to Play It Safe in Social


I was so outraged over the latest social outrage that I neglected to share this post that Ad Age had the audacity to run. You can catch the final version in Ad Age or read more below here.

How to Play It Safe in Social

Are you swelling with outrage over something so preposterously outrageous? Are you offended? Are you offended even more that people aren’t offended?

Then you must have read the latest brand’s tweet.

Of course, you probably didn’t see that tweet. It had already been taken down. So you read about it in a Twitter or Facebook post by a friend of yours that linked to an outlet that shared a screen shot of the tweet. That way, you still had a chance to be offended, but you didn’t have the rare pleasure of being one of the original offendees whose tweets about their outrage were probably quoted along with the screen shot.

It’s time for these offenses to end once and for all. As a gift to brand managers, community managers, and corporate lawyers everywhere, here is a foolproof, ten-step checklist to follow that will ensure you never offend anyone when posting through corporate social media channels.

1) Don’t reference anyone’s names. Some names are offensive to people. Take it from Dave and Buster’s, which made a reference to the “no one ever” meme by tweeting about “no Juan ever” hating tacos. Dave and Buster’s probably knows that some people named Juan don’t like tacos. Some people named Juan probably don’t even like quesadillas, or the especially delicious horchata. The good news for all the Juans out there is that there are a lot of Johns and Janes and others on Twitter who were so offended on Juans’ behalf that the tweet was removed within an hour.

2) Don’t use a hashtag. Not only can it be misappropriated, like McDStories, but some can be misread. The best version of this was when Susan Boyle’s album was promoted using susanalbumparty, which turned into an inadvertent nod to the Saturday Night Live sketches of Sean Connery misreading Jeopardy categories. Just avoid hashtags altogether.

3) Don’t ever host any kind of chat. It’s possible someone with a truly offensive name could respond to that post. When that happens, someone monitoring that campaign may miss the offensive name, and it will give everyone on the internet a chance to say that the brand is offensive. People won’t direct their anger at the person with an offensive name though; that would make way too much sense.

4) Don’t respond to or retweet anyone. That person could be a racist. Or maybe he took an illegal drug once. Or maybe he once went out to eat a nice meal and only left a 13% tip. He could even have an opinion on marriage equality or immigration, and someone else may disagree with that opinion. These things can all come back to haunt a brand that gives a voice to such an individual.

5) Don’t use any words that could mean something else in another language. There are 6,500 spoken languages, according to Infoplease. About 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers, but those speakers still could be using the internet. And that also leaves speakers of 4,500 other languages who can be offended in all kinds of ways, including through transliterations and homophones and homonyms. Any half-decent community manager is fluent in at least 3,000 languages.

6) Don’t mention planets. At least one of them sounds like a body part that is usually kept covered, except when certain celebrities expose such a region to break the internet.

7) Don’t engage in real-time marketing. It’s not because it’s offensive. Most of the time, brands just don’t have to say anything that interesting about pop culture, memes, or news. Better still, don’t promote a tweet that falls under the real-time marketing genre, as it may make a blogger sad.

8) Don’t share links to any outside news sources or websites. Often news sources offend people. What brand would ever want to be aligned with outlets that cover controversial topics? To be safe, marketers should pull all their advertising from any property that they don’t own. That way, they will never be seen as endorsing the views of anyone, ever. Instead, brands should only run ads on their local jazz radio station because the last time anyone was offended by jazz was when the Utah Jazz kept their name after moving the team from New Orleans.

9) Don’t engage in any clever marketing stunts. All marketing should be even more factual than a Ken Burns documentary. If you try to get too creative, then some people may take your marketing literally and complain when an outlet “debunks” your campaign. It’s best to focus campaigns around factual elements, like your business owner (unless he or she is racist), or your corporate headquarters (unless it is located in another country to dodge paying local taxes). Maybe it’s best not to run campaigns at all.

10) Don’t actually be offensive. Yes, once in a while a corporate entity or business owner expresses patently vile statements designed to offend people. It’s generally a good idea not to do that.&;

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