This past month, SmartBrief on Social Media ran a story on the success of stupidity as a social media strategy. Writer Carol Tice noted that “patently ludicrous” campaigns were more likely to get noticed, and less likely to face a backlash.

This past week, we got to see some social media stupidity in action, and we learned that there is a right way and wrong way to play dumb.

Two tweets — one by Charmin, the other from Home Depot — offered a stark contrast in social approaches, but on the surface they appeared similar. One featured a bear, the other a gorilla. They both aimed to be silly conversation starters. And both were eventually deleted.

But the tweets, consumer reaction to the tweets, and the brands’ own responses were anything but similar.

Home Depot’s tweet was called “bizarrely racist” and “seriously offensive.” It appeared to be the result of a painfully ignorant person, whether or not the racist undertone was deliberate.

Charmin’s tweet, on the other hand, was funny and charming — and just risque enough to gain notice among a discerning and skeptical Twitter crowd. It was also timely, tying in to the release of the latest “Thor” movie with a joke about the superhero’s home planet of Asgard.

There are some simple lessons to draw from these tweets — don’t be racist, do be creative. But there are some broader ideas regarding brand approaches to social media that are worth considering.

Put talented people in charge of your accounts

The author of the Home Depot tweet either finds crass racism funny, or was too obtuse to foresee the potential reaction. Either way, you’re dealing with someone whose brain function is set on low. Don’t think of social media outreach as busywork for bad hires who can’t manage much else. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable with an employee meeting one-on-one with a high-value customer for any reason, that’s reason enough to take away their Twitter privileges.

Contrast that with Charmin’s effort — the creative Thor-themed cartoon, the clever pun, the cheeky confidence. It’s done by a skillful person who is in command of the medium, aware of the audience and able to drum up ideas and deliver them quickly.

Slow down (especially with images)

Speed, however, isn’t everything. There’s no one sitting by their smartphone waiting with bated breath on the next tweet from their favorite toilet-paper or home-improvement brand. When you’re dealing with images, any number of things can wrong. On Twitter, you even have to consider what an image will look like when cropped in a user’s stream.

So before you publish, show it to a colleague. Consider the crop. Look at it again. Share it with another colleague. You only have to press publish once before you get canned.

Have a plan for when things go wrong

Home Depot’s reaction to the offending tweet started off strong — it proclaimed “zero tolerance” for such messages and said the agency and person responsible for it had been “terminated.” There are a number of next steps to take, from an internal review of social media practices to crafting a more complete apology or even just keeping quiet for a while. When you mess up in a big way, you’re going to take your lumps.

But what you should definitely not do: Respond to each offended user with the exact same message, which combines condescension and insincerity with a general cluelessness about how social networks work. If you don’t quite yet understand social media, it’s probably best to stay off of it. And if you plan on taking creative risks and giving people autonomy to post what they see fit, it’s important to discuss what happens when things go terribly wrong.

Act like a human

Above all, what the Home Depot tweet called for was a human reaction. Home Depot sells the tools that people use to make their house a home — their kitchens, their living rooms, their yards. It’s a relationship that demands a personal touch. Canned responses to concerned Twitter users isn’t personal, it’s a cover your ass approach. It’s the social media equivalent of placing someone on hold while assuring them, “Your call is important to us.”

Let’s go back to Charmin. Their page no longer shows the Asgard tweet — one assumes they didn’t get Marvel’s approval for use of the Thor character, and that they were forced to take it down. Instead what you’ll find is this.

Getting the small things right, even if only seen or shared by a few people, builds goodwill and allows for riskier, more popular efforts. For a brand that’s just starting out on Twitter, or is looking to regain trust, perhaps the best lesson is to think small and be kind.

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One Response to “Lessons from Charmin’s Twitter win and Home Depot’s fail”

  1. John Simons says:

    Bizarrely racist and seriously offensive indeed!

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