Social Media Campaigns: Strategic PR or Dice Rolling?

Tyler Blance Graduate Student Contributor

Social media campaigns are an up-and-coming form of marketing communications, stemming from the rise of social media prevalence in both society and industry as a whole. Organizations of large and small stature are developing social media campaigns. These campaigns originated on mediums like Facebook and Twitter, but today you can be surfing Pinterest or Youtube and find yourself in the middle of a company’s planned social media campaign. Social media campaigns may seem like a risk-free, easy way to promote a business or cause, but just how safe and sound are they?

To a lot of people it may come as no surprise that the fast food industry has grown to be one of the largest industries in America. The fast food industry’s general social media presence is also growing in size, with companies like Burger King and McDonald’s devoting time and strategy to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Within this time spent growing and nourishing a social audience or fan base is the development of a social campaign.

Wendy’s, a fast food giant for longer than I’ve been on this earth recently began a promoted campaign on Twitter showcasing their “Right Price Right Size Menu.” In the tweet pictured below, Wendy’s asked users to decide which item from the menu (displayed under the tweet text) would complement one of their signature burgers. From the outside, one might think that this is a cool way for a company to interact with its customers. However, Wendy’s stab at strategic social media communications turned into something less-than-successful.

A number of responses flooded in from the promoted tweet, and some of them were sincere, genuine answers to the fast food giant’s question. However, a number of tweets criticized the quality of Wendy’s products, joked about McDonald’s having superior taste and/or price, and made fun of the company as a whole. One user even tweeted a picture of a Wendy’s sandwich sitting in its wrapping amidst a puddle of grease in response to the seemingly-harmless promotional question.

Wendy’s was certainly not the first to experience the slippery slope of social media strategy. Companies in similar situations experienced a much more painful and embarrassing play-out. Take Starbucks, for example. This past Holiday season, the coffee company launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag “#SpreadTheCheer”, and Twitter users tweeted a storm of negative tweets about Starbucks not only in the US but in the UK as well.  Some of the tweets were so angry that profanity was used in conjunction with the hashtag aimed at spreading holiday cheer (and really spreading the word of Starbucks’ name, but that’s the behind-the-scenes science).

It’s safe to say that it certainly may be un-safe to launch a social media campaign. In the same light, however, there may be little-to-no chance of failure in launching a social campaign; it all depends on the topic and situation at hand. Strategic communications are constantly changing and developing. We’ve read about companies facing Facebook and Twitter campaign failures, and someday we’ll read about companies facing Instagram and Pinterest campaign failures. At the end of the day, these companies might be rolling the dice and throwing caution to the wind, or striking gold, but there is always risk in a social media campaign.

4 thoughts on “Social Media Campaigns: Strategic PR or Dice Rolling?

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  1. While a social media campaign can really be risky, my own opinion is that when you do things right, take care of details and of course make a decent prognosis you can significantly decrease the chance of failing. That being said , i don’t agree that this process is really dice rolling, because it really depends on how you handle it. Our company for example takes pride in helping people handle exactly that. Of course there are other factors throughout a social media campaign that have to be taken care of.

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