Monday, July 8, 2013

Two Brands That Turned Social Media Lemons Into Lemonade (and You Can, Too)

When brands try to control social media through heavy-handed legal or PR means, the outcomes are rarely positive. Clumsy brand actions that evoke social media backlash occur with such regularity, there is even a term for it: The Streisand Effect. 

In the past, we have explored the negative impact on brands caused by the Streisand Effect, but not all brands stumble into this trap. Some brands, when faced with similar tricky situations, take smart actions that not only avoid the negative PR and social backlash but strengthen the brand's reputation and relationships. What do these brands do right where so many others err? Here are two great examples of brands that got lemons and made lemonade:

Pitbull and Walmart Make the Most Out of Exile

A year ago, Walmart and Sheets Brand, the folks who make those dissolvable energy strips, launched a contest with rap star, Pitbull. The contest was simple: The Walmart store with the most new "likes" would win a Pitbull appearance in its hometown.

As so often happens in social media and on the Web, nothing is ever simple once the crowd gets involved. David Thorpe, a writer with the Boston Phoenix, started a viral meme when he suggested that people send Pitbull to the most remote Walmart, in Kodiak, Alaska. Thorpe's idea became a hashtag, #ExilePitbull, and sure enough, Kodiak was the easy winner of the brand's contest.

At this point, many brands might have freaked out or the "star" might have revolted, but Pitbull proved to be a great sport and made the most out of his trip to Sarah Palin's neighborhood. The rapper posted a video addressing the prank and committing, "You have to understand I will go anywhere in the world for my fans.” He got the key to the city, visited the US Coast Guard base and, of course, stopped at the local Walmart where he received a care package that included bear repellent.

Pitbull not only saw Thorpe's prank, he raised it. The recording artists invited Thorpe to join him on the trip, turning Thorpe into the biggest influencer of the campaign. Thorpe's tweets and pictures helped send word of Pitbull's trip to the Kodiak Walmart bouncing around the Internet.

Walmart and Pitbull came out of this potential PR disaster with a slew of new fans--both of the Facebook and real-world variety. Comments posted to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmingly positive, and both Walmart and Pitbull earned a lot of good press. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the brand this promotion was designed to boost, Sheets. It is easy to find dozens of blog posts and articles that praise the rapper and the discount chain, but I can find no evidence Sheets itself got a boost from the promotion. Still, faced with an unexpected and potentially unpleasant outcome, Walmart and Pitbull built credibility and gained authentic social media attention with smart moves and follow through.

Jack Daniel's Turns a Cease-and-Desist Letter Into Positive PR

The term "Cease and desist letter" should cause instant anxiety for anyone responsible for reputation management or social media. Sometimes these letters work as intended, but often they become fodder that turns a small, ignored issue into a giant, publicized problem. (In fact, the original 2003 incident that resulted in the creation of the term "Streisand Effect" was initiated with a cease-and-desist letter.)

It does not have to be this way if the brand uses some common sense before firing off legal threats. This tactic might may had few risks in the days before social media, but in the social era consumers are no longer powerless nor are brands protected by a mass media firewall. Brands must first determine if siccing the Law Department on someone is really the right step to take, but assuming it is, then the lawyers have to be reasonable. I know, I know, that's asking a lot, but Jack Daniel's has given us a blueprint for how to do it right.

In 2012, novelist Patrick Wensink published a book, "Broken Piano For President," with a cover suspiciously similar to Jack Daniel's famous label. The brand needed to protect its IP, so Wensink quickly heard from Jack Daniel's Properties. The brand's cease-and-desist letter went viral in social media, but in this case the word of mouth was positive.

Jack Daniel's achieved this by sending, in the words of Wensink, "the most polite cease and desist ever written." The letter says, "Because you are both a Louisville 'neighbor' and a fan of the brand we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is reprinted." Then Jack Daniel's goes on to--get this!--offer to pay for the book cover to be changed.

The book author noted, "If it wasn’t signed by some lawyer, I’d imagine ol’ Gentleman Jack penning it himself, twirling his bushy mustache." How's that for on-brand messaging? Thanks to a considerate cease-and-desist letter, Jack Daniel's turned a dangerous situation into something positive--hundreds of complimentary blog posts, articles and social media posts ensued.

Now, really, how hard was it for Jack Daniel's to achieve its goals and garner positive PR?  Not every negative situation may furnish the opportunity for your brand to create what Jack Daniel's achieved, but too many brands unleash the lawyers without giving consideration to alternate approaches and outcomes.

Jack Daniel's, Walmart and Pitbull demonstrate how brands can react when something unexpected occurs. Rather than push the panic button and create an even worse problem, these brands kept their word, lived up to the brand promise, stayed on message and let their actions speak louder than their words.

That is how you avoid the Streisand Effect and turn social media lemons into lemonade!

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