Controversial brands

How controversial brands stand up on social

By   |   October 19th, 2017   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Brands

brand marketing, content strategy

When brands struggle to maintain a good reputation, how can they use social to improve it?

Sometimes a brand’s reputation just can’t catch a break.We all know the brands that have to work hard to get good press.

It might be airlines, it might be the telecoms companies, it might even be the oil giants. It’s not always the same for everyone but there’s a pretty finite list of companies that tend to be distrusted by at least some of the public.

Social media can be a great way to combat that; it’s a way for these brands to show the lighter side of their character, and give people something especially positive to think about when they think of the brand.

How they interact with social

To see what these brands were doing, we first needed to narrow down what it was we were talking about. So we decided to look at exactly the types of brands we mentioned above: the four major US airlines, the phone companies, the cable companies, oil businesses, and the big tobacco brands for good measure.

We’re also going to throw the NRA into the mix, being a brand that divides opinion so viscerally that it is simultaneously loved and despised, not just mildly complained about like the others.

When looking at how these brands interact with social media, it’s easiest to start with the tobacco brands, because the answer is quite simple. They don’t. Years of advertising regulation on any kind of brand associated with smoking means it is just not worth the risk of them getting sued over a breach. There’s simply not enough upside, so they don’t bother.

As for the rest of the brands that we’re looking at, straight off the bat it becomes obvious that there are essentially two strategies that these companies employ. The first, which is used by the likes of BP, Comcast, and Spectrum, is just to keep a low profile and hope nobody notices you.

They post infrequently, with content that doesn’t consistently engage their audience, and they don’t interact with their customers on social. To illustrate this we can look at some of the cable companies. DIRECTV, for example, have over 4 million followers on Facebook, but only averaged 153 engagements on their posts for the last year, with their most engaged with piece garnering just over 6,000 engagements. This is a safe strategy, but it doesn’t do much to put any positive spin on their reputation.

The second and more interesting strategy is to lean in and be hyper-interactive on social. The brands that do this make the best of their public image by emphasizing the positives. Brands such as airlines, phone companies, Shell, and the NRA all do this well in slightly different ways.

What they did well

The best-performing content tends to be light-hearted, but it varies a good deal by industry.

For example, the airline brands are able to do human interest stories really well. People are often happy when they’re going on holiday and it’s fairly simple to get an emotional post, whether that’s travel related or passenger or crew specific.

Delta’s most successful post was one celebrating the airline’s first combination of all-black, all-female pilots and crew, which garnered nearly 120,000 Facebook engagements. Southwest, meanwhile, capitalized on a user-generated video of a passenger’s child fistbumping his way down the cabin, much to the other passengers’ delight. Both managed to successfully showcase the very best things about their company, and were rewarded for it on social.

It’s a little harder for the telecoms industry. Unfortunately for them, there’s no inherent emotional upside to phone carriers or internet providers, so they have to find a different way to appeal to their followers. A great way to do this is to post interviews or videos with celebrities, or fun tidbits that show their customers that they are more than just an apologetic voice on the other end of a complaint line.

T-Mobile are probably the best example of the way to do this. Its best performing posts either featured celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar or Ariana Grande, or they were fun ways of interacting with their audience, such as asking their customers to post their #feeface of how they look when they receive an unexpected addition to their bill.

The key across telecom companies that post this way is that it’s very rarely anything to do with their own service, unless it simultaneously distracts from it, and they’re not afraid to drag their competitors into social media name calling.

Among Verizon’s best-performing videos, for example, you’ll find posts that make fun of Sprint’s service, comparing it to various other negative experiences. The theme, though, across all of these brands, is that the top content is normally less customer and product focused than what the airlines put out, and more about the fun things they sponsor, or trying to get the audience to engage.

Shell is not dissimilar in this, not just focusing on oil operations, but on anything the brand is  doing that is innovative and then throwing everything into promoting it. Shell also uses celebrities to promote ideas and innovation and it has given the brand an average engagement on their posts of nearly 9,000, the highest of all the brands we looked at.

Bad Brands Good Social

This is quite literally the opposite of what BP do, who generally lay low on social, but do post a lot of videos of their oil rigs.

As for the NRA, they are incredibly effective at what they do, and were the most successful brand we looked at in terms of engagements. They do this by knowing exactly who their audience is and targeting them aggressively. Their most engaged with content was all about which presidential nominee had the best interests of gun owners at heart, and accusing Hillary Clinton of being a liar.

These politically inspired posts helped drive nearly 8 million engagements for the year, and went to show that if you have a dedicated audience that you want to play to, there’s no need to try to be non-partisan. They stir up controversy all the time, and still have their loyal followers that will support them through almost anything. It’s part and parcel of what they do.

Making the most of social

So as it turns out, there are a number of ways that you can have a bad reputation and yet do social media well. It’s easiest if you have a loyal audience, such as the NRA, who are able to pander to their partisan following and not care about the negative press.

It’s a little more difficult if you’re trying to remain neutral, but from laying low to finding a niche that works and running with it, there are a multitude of tactics that work well, and social media can have a significant positive upside for the reputation of a brand.

For a look at what brands are going viral right now, check out NewsWhip Spike.

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