Engaging with audiences on social media is an important part of any brand’s communications strategy. You want your customers to know that you’re listening to them and that you care about their experiences and opinions.
Most of the time, helpful or positive replies are enough to keep your followers happy and build your audience over time.
Sometimes, however, it pays to take a risk. That means sharing content that could spark controversy, thrust your brand into the spotlight, or draw critical attention.
If you do them right, these tactics can pay off big time helping your brand establish its identity, win new followers, or stay ahead of criticism. But they can also lead to disaster.
How can you make sure your brand avoids disaster? By learning from 10 brands that did it right.
Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.
1. Netflix always has a reply for critics
Does anyone not love Netflix on Twitter? Their social media is so good, it almost makes me forget that they no longer have Buffy the Vampire Slayer available to stream.
Even their pre-Christmas bio, a cheeky acknowledgement of one missing holiday classic, shows how well they know their audience:
That’s the key to their success on social: it’s clear that they share their followers’ passion for TV shows and movies. And they’re not afraid to get defend themselves, like when a follower criticized their description of Gossip Girl:
1. Everybody loves Gossip Girl.
2. Where is the lie tho?
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2018
They don’t play favorites with their programming either. When one follower questioned their retweet of an unconventional routine by Miss Toto from RuPaul’s Drag Race, they didn’t hesitate to reply.
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 18, 2018
They’re even ready to stand up for the infamous peach scene in “Call Me By Your Name.” That’s how much they love their movies.
quite the opposite.
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 7, 2019
Many brands try to cultivate a suave, cool voice on social media, but Netflix’s responses show that sometimes it pays off to embrace a weirder, nerdier brand voice. Their genuine enthusiasm for TV and movies allows them to connect with fans and followers, and it also helps to promote their content.
2. Merriam-Webster makes the dictionary cool
It might be hard to believe, but one of the best social media accounts out there is run by… the dictionary.
That’s right — the giant book you only crack open to settle Scrabble arguments. Somehow, Merriam-Webster has built a loyal following of more than 725,000 people by tweeting about definitions and grammar.
How did they do it? By seizing opportunities to inform and educate, with a tone that’s funny and confident, like your best English teacher from high school. Here are some of their most cutting clapbacks.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 17, 2017
1) saying they don't know what 'genderqueer' means
2) asking why we added it to the dictionary pic.twitter.com/wsGZ7Y6XB8
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) April 25, 2016
If the dictionary can transform their public reputation from a dull reference material to a vital source of trivia and current events, there’s hope for any “boring” brand!
Take it from Merriam-Webster and look for opportunities to share timely, thoughtful content. Use clear language or emojis to make technical information accessible. And don’t be afraid to let your values show through your posts — you may not win everyone’s approval, but you’ll build loyalty and trust with those who choose to follow you.
Oh, and it never hurts to be funny.
We save all our hardcore, heavy metal content for Thursday afternoons. https://t.co/pTLZNSyNS6
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 13, 2018
3. Sanofi fixes a PR crisis
Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi experienced every company’s worst nightmare when they were thrust into the center of a PR scandal in May 2018. Actress Roseanne Barr blamed sending several racist tweets on her use of the sleep aid Ambien, which is made by Sanofi.
Rather than trying to dodge the spotlight, the company responded swiftly to her remarks with a strong position of their own:
People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.
— Sanofi US (@SanofiUS) May 30, 2018
Their response went viral and garnered overwhelmingly positive responses. While they could have stayed silent and wait for the next medial scandal to redirect public attention, their decision to respond allowed them to turn a disaster into a win.
Keep hoping that your brand is never associated with a celebrity’s public meltdown, but just in case, it’s important to have a plan in place.
4. MoonPies seizes the mo(on)ment
The August 2017 eclipse was a rare cosmic event, and a lot of companies attempted to ride the coattails of public excitement with stunt advertising campaigns. But few were as perfectly positioned to do so than the aptly-named MoonPies. Rather than pulling together a big campaign of their own, they managed to achieve a massive impact with a single tweet:
Lol ok https://t.co/lobyuNOkee
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) August 21, 2017
It’s always a good idea to take note of upcoming occasions and events that align with your brand (a content calendar can help you there!). These are perfect opportunities to boost your visibility in the public eye and gain new followers.
But MoonPies proves that sometimes there’s value in a less-is-more approach. Rather than competing with rival campaigns, MoonPies broke through the noise with a funny, irreverent message.
5. Adidas owns up to an insensitive email
Is there a more awful feeling than realizing that you just said something really insensitive a moment too late? Adidas knows how you feel.
In April 2017, they sent an email to select customers with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”
While most would agree that running a marathon is an impressive feat of stamina, their phrasing inadvertently made light of the devastating Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
My friend received this email from Adidas after the Boston Marathon… I don't know how an advertising team doesn't catch this. pic.twitter.com/Fe16Z4Hnvq
— Robin Dich (@RobinDich) April 18, 2017
Rather than minimizing or ignoring the situation, Adidas swiftly issued an apology.
— adidas (@adidasUS) April 18, 2017
While publicly apologizing could have drawn even more attention to their faux-pas, Adidas managed to strike the right balance with their message. They didn’t deflect or minimize the impact, and they take responsibility as a company for the mistake.
As proof of public forgiveness, the ratio on their apology tweet is excellent. People on social media are quick to pile on when it comes to a public blunder, but a genuine and thoughtful apology can go a long way to restoring your brand’s good name.
Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.Get the free guide right now!
6. Wendy’s is the reigning clapback champion
No roundup of social media comebacks would be complete without mention of Wendy’s, which may now be better known for their online sass than their Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers. They even wrote a blog post, patting themselves on the back for their best 2018 Twitter roasts.
Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.
— FREEBACONATOR (@Wendys) June 11, 2018
Fast food restaurants are a competitive bunch when it comes to social media sass, but Wendy’s is the undisputed champ, always ready with a witty response.
— Gabe Kapler’s Coconut Oil (@GabeKaplersOil) June 11, 2018
Their strategy can’t work for everyone; Wendy’s has built their online reputation on being snarky, and 2.9 million people follow them for their merciless burns. Before you follow their lead, make sure sarcasm is true to your brand voice.
7. The MERL gains popularity with humor
Why does a small museum about the English countryside have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter? Because unlike other tiny museums about mundane subjects, this one knows how to build a brand using social media!
The MERL (Museum of English Rural Life) first emerged from internet obscurity in April 2018 with a delightful riff on the “absolute unit” meme. Even if you’re not a scholar of internet humor, you can still appreciate the artistry:
look at this absolute unit. pic.twitter.com/LzcQ4x0q38
— The Museum of English Rural Life (@TheMERL) April 9, 2018
Twitter users came for the chubby sheep joke and stayed when they realized this museum (and its collection of old farm photos) was absurdly funny. Suddenly, we were all fans of rural British life.
me at xmas dinner: just a couple roast potatoes please being good this year
me 5 mins later: pic.twitter.com/W93gtEQAh0
— The Museum of English Rural Life (@TheMERL) December 19, 2018
Just as marketers since time immemorial (or, okay, since the early 2000s) have tried to predict what content will go viral, social media managers are always trying to nail the formula for the perfect post.
In part, their tweets work because they’re so unexpected — who would think a museum account could be so weird and hilarious? But also, their content works because it’s unique. They’re drawing inspiration from their own archives and collections, which means their posts aren’t like anything else you’ll find on Twitter.
At the end of the day, social media users care about the quality and originality of content above anything else. If you’re sharing funny, interesting, or visually striking content, you’ll find your audience.
8. KFC proves that honesty is the best policy
In February 2018, KFC turned a PR disaster into a major win when 750 of their restaurants in the UK and Ireland closed suddenly due to a supply issue.
Fried chicken fans were livid. Local authorities even had to remind the public that a fried chicken shortage was not a valid reason to call the police.
How did they fix the fiasco? By taking responsibility, admitting fault, and being transparent about the issue.
In addition to setting up a website where customers could check if restaurants had reopened yet, and taking out some profane print ads to apologize, they also kept their social media followers in the loop.
There's gossip in the hen house, here's the facts… pic.twitter.com/lEuyiOZx2h
— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) February 21, 2018
Good news, over half of our restaurants are now back open! Our teams are working flat out to open the rest. Equilibrium will soon be restored. pic.twitter.com/ZXgijpBR7L
— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) February 20, 2018
As the head of brand engagement Jenny Packham said, KFC decided to “remain true to its brand voice” and apologize to customers, rather than hide behind a formal statement or point fingers at the supplier.
As a result, their fans and customers felt like there were real people trying to fix the problem, not just a faceless company trying to minimize a major problem.
9. Patagonia defends their environmental values
Outdoor retailer Patagonia is well-known for their corporate values around sustainability. And they’re willing to defend their reputation as environmental stewards when customers question their commitment:
Considering they are printed on 100% recycled paper with non-toxic ink, we do think that it's worth it to share our stories and photos with our customers. If you'd like to be removed please send your name, address, and customer number to firstname.lastname@example.org
— Patagonia (@patagonia) November 30, 2018
We didn't have a Black Friday sale as it promotes buying more which promotes more waste.
— Patagonia (@patagonia) November 30, 2018
But they brought new attention to their cause when CEO Rose Marcario announced on LinkedIn that the company was donating their $10 million tax cut—the result of changes to corporate tax rates administered by the Trump administration—to environmental causes. While many companies avoid wading into political territory, Patagonia took direct aim at Donald Trump with this comeback, calling the corporate tax cut “irresponsible.”
The tax cut is a contentious political issue, and their bold response did generate some criticism. But it ultimately drew a huge amount of positive attention to their company and practices, and reinforced their brand values.
Customers increasingly consider company values when choosing between brands. If you want to set yourself apart from your competitors, making it clear what your company stands for can be a smart strategy.
10. KLM improves the traveler experience
Airlines have it rough on social media. By my unscientific estimate, ninety-nine per cent of all messages they receive are from disgruntled passengers who are mad about flight delays, lost luggage, and disappointing mid-flight snacks. They’re a hard bunch to appease, but Dutch airline KLM does it better than anyone else.
In 2014, they launched a campaign to encourage customers to reach out on social media if they had lost items during transit. It kicked off with an adorable video featuring a dog named Sherlock returning forgotten possessions to happy travelers, which racked up over 24 million views.
Unfortunately, Sherlock isn’t actually checking flights for your forgotten headphones, but KLM flight attendants are. And customers still regularly contact KLM for assistance.
— Andrew Lombardi (@kinabalu) October 17, 2017
Me: I’ll just leave my laptop in the seat pocket in front and have a quick nap before we land. ????
Also me: OMG I LEFT MY LAPTOP ON THAT PLANE ????
Thanks guys! ????
— Luc Dockendorf (@LucDockendorf) June 12, 2018
Promoting this option to customers has two benefits for the airline: it generates positive stories about returned items, and demonstrates their commitment to customer service.
Hello Nick, we would like to request our KLM Lost & Found Team to start a search for your lost item. Please send a Direct Message for this. Thank you!
— Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) September 10, 2018
It also clarifies how their social media team can assist customers. People often tweet at brands asking for help with problems that can’t be addressed in a tweet or a Facebook message, leaving the customer angry and unsatisfied with their unresolved issue. By telling people what their social media team can do, KLM has set themselves up for success.
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