Social media has opened up a whole new world of opportunities to engage with our customers like never before. We openly ask for their feedback and opinions on our brands, products and marketing programs.
Of course, asking those questions can be like opening a can of worms. Many times that commentary is inspiring, as brands look to continuously improve. Other times, though, it can be potentially damaging to the brand.
McDonald's recently learned the hard way, yet again, with its Twitter hashtag promotion #UnwrapWhatsFresh to launch their new Premium McWraps. As if the drama around #McDStories -- a hashtag overrun by negative, often disturbing recounts of McDonalds experiences -- earlier in the year wasn't enough, the brand got more than it bargained for when consumers responded with all sorts of things they'd like to "unwrap." While it may have made for an entertaining stream to some, it certainly wasn't where McDonald's was prepared to go.
Over on Amazon, there's an equally intrusive string of more than 4,000 comments about the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, essentially mocking the product. The reviews have taken over the brand's page and completely overshadowed its messaging.
So what's a brand to do when consumer engagement runs out of control?
Related: How to Think Like Your Customer
First of all, you have to anticipate it. When planning marketing programs, you have to think ahead and anticipate how consumers will engage with the brand. When coming up with a program, think through all the ways it can be interpreted, misinterpreted and reinterpreted, down to the worst-case-scenario. If you plan around these issues, you may be able to avoid a disaster.
If your brand takes a hit, go with the flow and be transparent. There's nothing worse than a brand that shuts down commentary when it doesn't like what people are saying. Excluding offensive content, the best thing you can do is to embrace and participate in the discussion. Show your humanity and roll with it. Remain true to your brand, but jump right in with your consumers and comment along with them.
If the content gets offensive, you do have every right to protect the integrity of your brand and the audience that does admire you. Just be transparent about it and tell participants you are deleting offensive content. Leaving most of it visible will show you are being honest, but you should transparently delete content that offends or is utterly ridiculous. It can be wise to seek a trusted outsider's perspective when trying to determine this, given your emotional connection to your company. Use your judgment and be honest about it.
Ask yourself: Is this social media campaign worth it? Before embarking on any social marketing campaign, ask yourself if the one you are creating is appropriate. It's one thing to anticipate certain reactions, but it's vitally important to decide if you should even be in the game. Throwing yourself out there in social media is like going to a party naked -- you're going to get comments.
Opening a hash tag in Twitter invites people to say what's on their minds. You need be honest with yourself about whether you are ready to invite people to talk about your brand so publicly. Asking people to scream about your brand will likely get them screaming right at you.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.