It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
…Unless you work in marketing, advertising, retail, customer support, or social media, in which case the holidays can be a minefield of potential bad press. Cutting through the noise of competitors, responding to an influx of customer queries, promoting a new product, exceeding your holiday quota and maintaining a good reputation can be a hard balance to strike, especially when your actions are being watched in real time by your customers online. Some brands will risk a built reputation to make a short term promotional push at the end of the year. Often times, this doesn’t end well, yielding more coal for these brands than it does returns.
Luckily, we’ve witnessed enough holiday fails to fill each retailer’s stocking with advice on how to stay off the naughty list. Consider the following our pocket guide to avoiding digital trouble during the holidays:
1. Prepare your digital team for a crisis, even if the crisis starts offline
The serious subject of sexual assault was the focal point of much of American news in 2015. News of sexual assault cases both at home and abroad prompted many women to openly engage in a somber, frustrated discussion online about the realities of sexual violence. So, when Bloomingdale’s ran an ad that seemed to shamelessly promote date-rape, the public was outraged.
Similarly, the humor of this tone-deaf “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” sweater from Target was rightfully lost on actual sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
It’s important to note that neither of these gaffes actually began online, but they ended up there because consumers were so strongly repulsed by them that they felt the need to document their anger publicly, increasing the fallout caused by a bad decision. In both events, the digital teams of both brands weren’t actually the source of the problem, but as the recipients of the public’s reaction, they held the important responsibility of successfully putting out the fire. A satisfactory response from the company’s digital team could create good karma and earn, over time, customer forgiveness; a tone-deaf one, on the other hand, could just as easily fan the flames.
The takeaway here is that while you can’t always anticipate what could go wrong with your holiday rollout, you can guarantee that if it does go wrong, it will eventually make its mark permanently online, in which case your digital team needs to be briefed on how to respond. A bulletproof crisis management plan and an empathetic digital voice can make all the difference between a save and a fumble.
2. Tighten up your online endorsements
The benefits of including a celebrity endorsement in your holiday marketing strategy can be plentiful, and are often fairly mutual: celebrities and other influencers are paid to test and produce their personal reaction to a product, retailers are provided a “raw” advertisement that speaks to an already-captive audience. The increased engagement online between celebrities and fans has re-ignited interest in celebrity endorsements, making them a favorite among retailers looking to increase their digital reach.
However, when the curtain is accidentally lifted, celebrity endorsements can (and do) go wrong:
People can be pretty good at sniffing out ads disguised as Tweets, even when they’re not as blatant as this one is, and unfortunately that liability does affect your brand’s reputation. Just like in real life, people don’t appreciate being pitched an advertisement in the middle of a conversation online, particularly if that pitch is botched, tasteless, or shameless. Similar to the mutual benefits of this relationship, a negative consequence is often shared between parties: both the celebrity and the brand get burned on a sour endorsement.
To prevent people from associating your brand with an embarrassing plug, make sure you’ve thoroughly vetted trusted influencers to endorse your product, and provide them with clear brand guidelines and examples to follow.
3. Personalize your responses to customers
Anyone who has written thank-you notes knows how difficult it can be to relay the exact same message multiple times without sounding too repetitive or forced. However, as the occasional receivers of a thoughtless reply, we’re also all painfully aware of how deflating an underwhelming response can make us feel, particularly if you care very deeply about the subject at hand. The balance between exerting too much or too little energy on a bulk reply is a fairly delicate one, especially when you’re on a tight schedule.
The general rule of thumb in these situations is to spend a few minutes making your response personal, so that the authenticity and gratitude of your message is felt by the recipient. This etiquette rule applies to brands too, and woe be unto the brand who forgets.
Kmart was one of those brands who forgot, and it made a bad situation decidedly worse for them. After news broke that Kmart would be open during Thanksgiving day, appalled shoppers took to Twitter to express their disappointment. Kmart’s response was the following canned message:
They tweeted this 150 times in roughly 48 hours.
If customers previously thought that Kmart didn’t care about their employees and community, Kmart’s response certainly wasn’t changing their minds.
The moral: take the extra couple minutes to personalize your response to customers online. Complaints are opportunities for your customer service team to shine, and issuing a blanket response to criticism not only damages your brand, but inhibits your customer support team’s ability to do their job correctly.
4. Log out of your branded accounts before tweeting from your personal ones
This isn’t necessarily a holiday-themed tip, but it always bears repeating since every year we witness a handful of brands that have to issue rapid-fire apologies for an embarrassing tweet meant for a personal account, but sent through a branded one, like these:
You’d think it’d be a simple fix, but it happens, without fail, every year:
If you take only one thing from this guide, let it be this: save yourself from embarrassment and use Incognito Mode when you’re logged into your work accounts. That way, once you close out of the window, the login information is cleared from your cache, removing the question beyond a shadow of a doubt of whether or not you’re still logged into a work account.