When social media backfires

When social media backfires

Companies are trying to figure out how to increase their marketing reach through social media.

But in their haste to grab eyeballs, the slightest misstep can attract harsh criticism.

The latest misstep to make headlines and draw fire from netizens? A German couple's seemingly earnest offer to cook for Singaporeans in their home was revealed to be a marketing tactic by NTUC Fairprice to promote their new Finest food section.

It highlights a key rule set by media and public relations experts: Any attempt to use social media must be authentic.

Mr Lars Voedisch, managing director of social media and public relations consultancy PRecious Communications, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "People don't like to be deceived, especially on social media. You have to be authentic, relevant and transparent to avoid a sour taste among the people you want to engage."

Ms Belinda Ang, an independent social media consultant, says: "With social media, it's more difficult to tell what is real."

While some say there is no such thing as bad publicity, Mr Voedisch points out that "grabbing attention isn't everything. Once people feel deceived, it might backfire."

An example of such backfiring?

He recalls the Forbidden Love campaign by an insurance company. A Facebook page was created for a couple to garner public support of their May-December relationship. He was abruptly "killed" and hence the need for insurance.

Says Mr Voedisch: "People felt cheated because they thought it was a genuine love story."

Ms Ang also says that companies should be careful not to cross certain lines, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Singapore.

She refers to the "bear" campaign by Philips Electronics Singapore in 2010.

"It preyed on people's fears, all to launch a new shaver," says Ms Ang.

"But if it had released another video just hours after the first one stating that Philips was responsible, it could have been a success."

Instead, Philips had to apologise and was even investigated on whether the stunt was an offence of public nuisance.

Says Ms Ang: "Companies should be aware of cultural boundaries that they cannot cross. For example, playing on immigrant issues just for some shock factor is a no-no."

But some social media campaigns work, and Ms Ang points to the KLM Surprise video.

The Dutch airline tracked 28 passengers on social media and surprised them with personalised gifts.

The video, uploaded to YouTube, resulted in 5,000 more fans on KLM's Facebook page.

Says Ms Ang: "They reinforced their brand with a positive message, were open about it and this translated to more eyeballs."

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