A Social Media Lesson From Johnny Football

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As an avid college football fan (only 74 more days until kickoff at the time of this writing), it’s hard not to follow Johnny Manziel’s social media escapades. For those who don’t follow sports, Manziel (also known as Johnny Football) is the starting quarterback for Texas A&M. After becoming the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, increased public scrutiny for Manziel unearthed his penchant for embarrassing Twitter tirades and images. In his latest profane-laced tweet, he claimed he couldn’t wait to leave College Station (where Texas A&M is located). The predictable backlash and uproar that followed made me realize how quickly 140 characters can change how someone views you — or your brand. Before posting from a social media account, here are a few questions all brands should ask themselves:

Could this post backfire in any way?

Possibly the most famous cautionary tale of social media backfiring on a brand is when McDonald’s took to Twitter asking people to tweet their favorite stories about the hamburger chain using the hashtag #McDStories. The response was predictable: People used the hashtag to bash the company, their food and everything in between.

Companies need to have a good public-standing barometer before posting to social media with the intent of public interaction. Brands should always take the time to think it through, considering ways the post could be misconstrued by low-browed individuals.

Could this post offend followers by coming across as insensitive or ignorant?

There are countless examples of brands slipping up in this department, with the faux pas often circling around a current event or national disaster.

Hurricane Sandy is a sterling example of this. American Apparel distributed an e-blast promoting a 20% off sale in regions affected by the storm, just “in case you’re bored during the storm.” Not to be outdone, Gap Inc. tweeted “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” Thankfully I wasn’t directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, but I can imagine those that were had a little more pressing concerns than doing some shopping on the American Apparel or Gap website.

Designer Kenneth Cole had a similar Twitter mishap. During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the designer made light of a violent and extremely important uprising by posting the following tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Are you kidding me?

Sometimes brands try too hard to be current, “with-the-times” or witty, and all too often fall on their faces in the process. Before posting, brands need to consider if the subject matter could be seen as controversial or downright insulting. If it’s questionable, it’s probably better left unsaid.

In the case of the companies referenced above, failure to think through their social media efforts cost them immeasurable losses in public opinion and customer loyalty, in a tide stemmed only by frantic herculean efforts by their respective PR teams. In the case of Johnny Football, these outbursts have reflected poorly on Manziel himself, his coach Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M University, and even to a degree the prestigious Heisman Trophy itself. Before taking to your brand’s social media outlets, please, PLEASE think through what’s about to be released to the public. Your brand doesn’t have to be the next example of a social media blunder.

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