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Thinking of jumping in on that trending topic?

Boathouse’s Geoff Gates says you should first ask these questions to ensure a sound social media strategy before jumping into a trending topic or major event.

6 min read

MarketingSocial Media

Geoff Gates: How brands need to rethink their social strategy when it comes to world events

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

Here’s one part of marketers’ social media strategy that is highly underrated: their approach to major world events and trending topics.

This is a complex issue that many brands go into without a structured process or approach – which is a huge mistake that could create irreparable harm. Inserting your brand into a conversation is a high-risk/high-reward situation. It’s one that should be thoroughly examined before sending that tweet. 

While this is a difficult landscape to navigate, there are processes you can put in place to determine if you should be entering into a discussion or not. So, the next time a major event occurs or there’s a trending topic that you and your brand want to join, here are some questions and considerations you should first examine.

Will people be upset or even notice if you don’t join the conversation?

This is the first question you should ask yourself when a topic arises that you’re considering joining: If we were to sit this out, would our customers be upset, or even notice? 

Queen Elizabeth’s passing is a great example of a topic that brands were asking themselves about. You need to really ask yourself, Does it make sense for us to talk about this? Do we have some connection to this topic that makes it appropriate for us to discuss? Or are you posting about it simply to check the box that you’ve posted something, or because you’re on the hunt for quick engagements? If after all of this you feel entering the conversation makes sense, you should move forward expecting to get to a point where you’re going to post. 

But whether it’s a yes or a no, you still need to walk through a series of other questions and considerations before going live.

Have you done your research?

Brands often look to leverage the power of real-time trending topics on platforms like Twitter to get speedy results. This is a great way to make a big splash, but that splash could turn into a tsunami if you don’t do your research. Years ago, #WhyIStayed began trending. At first glance, it seems harmless enough to join. But this hashtag consisted of women and men explaining their own, very personal, domestic abuse stories and their reasoning for staying in abusive relationships. Some brands didn’t do their research, jumped on the trend with lighthearted content, and suffered the consequences. 

Take the time to investigate exactly what it is you’re joining before you offer an opinion or stance.

Do your actions match your words?

Following the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, brands were quick to publicly condemn racism in all forms. This, on paper, is a great thing. But plenty of brands were quickly called out because their words didn’t match up to their actions. Whether it be unfair hiring policies, pay and advancement discrepancies, or a litany of other actions and inactions, their behaviors didn’t ladder back to the words they posted on Instagram. 

Actions speak louder than words, and a smart approach here would be to highlight the actions your brand has taken to address racism internally and externally. If you’re drawing a blank here, I’d recommend spending your time developing a tangible plan to become an anti-racist organization instead of brainstorming ways to enter the conversation.

Take a breath

It’s amazing the clarity that can come by holding off for an hour or two. This is a skill I learned and honed with my time at the Los Angeles Lakers, a brand that’s examined under a microscope.

Often, more information on the topic of conversation will come out during this time. This allows your brand to better address the situation. If a story is developing and it’s apparent that information is lacking, hold off. Taking a beat also gives you time to see what not to do, as you better believe there will be brands who rush to their keyboards in an attempt to capitalize on an increase in eyeballs only to see what they’ve done backfire. 

There’s a lot of pressure to be quick, but there’s no amount of impressions or engagements that are worth risking your brand doing damage to itself. It takes years and even decades to build trust with an audience but it takes one ill-informed tweet to watch it all come crashing down. A few hours will have a small impact on your performance, sure, but it could save your brand from entering a conversation it shouldn’t.

Ask four random people in your company screen your post

OK, so you’ve gone through everything we just discussed and are confident about posting. Your team creates something, you review and approve it. Time to post? Not so fast!

A smart practice is to audit the post with other members of your company who weren’t involved in its creation. Choose an assortment of people to review from different backgrounds and career paths. We often experience tunnel vision, missing key elements that others may pick up. 

Throughout my career I’ve taken this approach and it has absolutely saved us on a number of occasions. People miss things all the time, ask others if what you’re planning on doing feels right

All of those in leadership positions should communicate clearly the importance of patience and sound social media strategy when addressing world events and trending topics. By clearly articulating those as priority over engagements, you and your teams will put yourselves in a much better position to make a true impact on the conversation you’re joining.

Geoff Gates is the Creative Director of Social Strategy and Content of Boathouse, a full-service marketing and strategy agency. Previously Gates led the social and content team at the Los Angeles Lakers overseeing their 66 million-plus followers worldwide. He and his team were responsible for the Lakers’ social media channels and content strategy, along with the creation of all content that populated social, web, email and apps.

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