Can Your Business Avoid Inviting Social Media Outrage?

Some of it is self-inflicted and some of it is unexpected, but it seems more and more these days companies are finding themselves the target of an outraged social media audience.  Here are just a couple of recent examples:

  • HBO recently announced a new show by the producers of Game of Thrones that will be set in an alternative timeline in which the south won the Civil War, and retained slavery until present day.  Social media, predictably, went nuts.  The prevailing attitude was that two white producers couldn’t be sensitive enough to the subject matter, and overall they seemed a little too excited about it.  HBO’s president recently issued a statement saying they stand behind the project, but understand that the announcement could have been handled better.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL asked fans to post animated GIFs on Twitter that show how excited they are for training camp to start.  As you can imagine, this backfired in a big way.  The Jaguars haven’t had much success over the last handful of seasons, and fans let them know about it.  Here’s a rundown of some of the GIFs they posted, none of which show the excitement the club was hoping for.
  • Real estate firm Bedrock had to remove a billboard, apologize, and skulk away in shame, after social media outrage pointed out that it was racially insensitive.  The billboard, placed on a building in Detroit, had the tagline, “See Detroit Like We Do” and featured a bunch of smiling white people.  The problem is that 80% of Detroit’s population is African-American.

Seemingly every day, businesses walk into these types of problems.  What they seem to fail to understand is that social media, while an invaluable tool, can also be a nasty place full of people hoping to find ways to humiliate or be angry at you.  Imagine if everyone in the world had their own worldwide radio station, where they could broadcast whatever they wanted.  Yup … that’s pretty much what social media is.  Because of that, you need to tread lightly and carefully to avoid problems.

Here are some tips to help avoid walking into social media outrage:

Be Overly Sensitive

While many argue that people have become too sensitive, as a communications professional you have to know your audience.  If they’re overly sensitive, then you have to be as well.  In situations where race, gender, and sexuality are involved, you have to tread extremely lightly.  In the example above involving HBO, the initial announcement simply seemed … well … too excited about the whole thing.  With just a little forethought, they would have realized that slavery is the mother of all hot button issues.  They could have addressed that directly in the announcement and saved themselves some trouble.

Think of Every Possible Response

The Jaguars, in particular, should have thought ahead and they truly should have known better.  When your team has only won 11 games in the last three seasons then your fans might be a bit testy.  The whole thing was well-intentioned, but, honestly, they could have avoided this by not asking to be mocked.  While engagement in social media is what we all seek, if the choices are less engagement or the kind in which you come off looking stupid, I’d choose less engagement.

Be Diverse

This may seem obvious, given the third example above, but lack of diversity (in any direction) can and will be seen as a negative in most situations, and the social media outrage machine will get cranked up to eleven.  When using imagery in advertising or social media, ensure it reflects your audience in as many ways as possible.

In Conclusion

Let’s face it, some people don’t need much of an excuse to become outraged, but as communications professionals, it’s our job to minimize their reasons for them to get there.