What Big Brands and Pop Culture Have Taught Me About Social Media Marketing

2014 Was full of lessons in social media marketing if you were paying attention. Here’s what I learned from people and brands who are doing social the right way – and some who aren’t.

It’s okay to admit you messed up if you’ve made an honest mistake.

Brands make mistakes on Twitter pretty regularly, tweeting inappropriate or offensive remarks, then quickly delete the problematic tweet and issue an apology. Fine, whatever; we forgive you. But one brand’s fantastic apology turns what could have been a costly mistake into their best ad of the year. 

The marketing team at Arby’s made a pretty big mistake this year when they didn’t follow the terms of their agreement with Pepsi to include their products in two advertisements per year. Sounds bad, right? Not necessarily. They seized the opportunity to not only fulfill their partnership requirements, but to make a point of admitting they screwed up and creating a simple, fun video that had more of an impact than any of their other commercials this past year. As of this article’s publication, the “We Have Pepsi” commercial had over 1.9 million views on Arby’s You Tube channel, more than three times any of their other videos in their “Commercials” playlist.

Note: This is not the original video – seems that Arby’s removed it from their You Tube channel.

Know your audience.

IMG_2210 Yes, I know we’ve heard this before, but I have a couple recent examples of just how important this is.

  1. John Mayer is pretty popular on Instagram, with over 970,000 followers. His posts are a snapshot of his daily life and include photos of him, his guitars, his adventures and a short video every so often. I found a recent post of his particularly entertaining when he wanted to show off a new amp, but knowing that his followers include both people who are fans of his music and those who are fans of his pretty face, he took a selfie with the amp to please both audiences. He even threw in a #knowyouraudience hashtag for good measure.
  2. Denny’s is killing it on Tumblr, one of the most difficult platforms for brands to fit in. Random, I know, but your grandma’s favorite 24/7 diner has earned quite a rambunctious following in this teen-dominated space. It works because they aren’t trying too hard. They use informal language in silly posts that perfectly fit in with the platform’s culture.
  3. A Reddit AMA can do a lot to boost a celebrity’s public image, but it can very easily do the opposite if he/she is not aware of what they are getting into. Those who are prepared for the left-field and sometimes very personal questions they are bound to receive end the session with a smile after enjoying a break from the boring interview circuit. However, the Reddit community (full of people as smart, polite and helpful as they are raunchy, pushy and cynical) will not coddle those celebrities who pick and choose the “easy” questions or come off as less than honest. Those considering this PR option should take a hint from Michael C. Hall who recently held my all-time favorite AMA. Check out these lists from Mashable about the best and worst AMAs in recent months.

The 10 must-read Reddit AMAs of 2014

7 Reddit AMAs That Went Horribly Wrong


Just because other people are doing it doesn’t mean you should.

  1. DiGiorno’s social media manager used a trending hashtag without looking into what it meant first. They ended up making a tasteless joke in the middle of a conversation about domestic abuse. They were quick to admit the error and apologize, but that is the kind of error that just shouldn’t happen.
  2. Ask the teams who came up with the Cosby memes and #AskThicke promos how they went. Yikes. Whoever in Bill Cosby and Robin Thicke’s camps thought it would be a good idea to invite the people of the internet to tell them how they really feel about supposed misogynistic cheating husbands and once-loved sitcom stars plagued with sexual abuse accusations maybe should have thought that through a little more. The results are so cringe-worthy I can’t even bear to show them here.
  3. Lastly, your brand does not need to say something about everything, especially 9/11.

I learned these lessons by indulging my two favorite guilty pleasures: browsing lots of social media platforms and clicking on scandalous pop culture headlines. It’s nice to know all that hard work wasn’t for nothing. 🙂

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