When someone uses Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, they may expect their feed to be photos of friends and family’s trips, political discourse, and pop culture discussions. However, when trends go viral and gain popularity, brands try to get in on the action.
Utilizing social media successfully can be a slippery slope for brands. Social media is a great marketing tool that organizations use to boost their brand engagement, but it can quickly go awry if an organization assumes the mentality that all press is good press.
One example of this is Burger King’s 2021 tweet on International Women’s Day. The tweet promotes a new scholarship program for women in the culinary industry. They decided to take a debated humorous approach to create this promotion, resulting in the following — now deleted — tweet being made.
The attempt at humor was unsuccessful and became a PR nightmare. This tweet garnered over 288,000 likes, had significantly more engagement than the typical Burger King tweet, and gained more likes than the following tweet in the thread that described the scholarship program. Twitter user Kendall Brown identified this as well in the following tweet.
The difference in likes between the two Burger King tweets proves that controversial media creates interest. Social media is a valuable marketing and public relations tool for business, and so is controversy. However, when social media and controversy are combined, it is counterintuitive. The controversy brings attention to the brand, but the controversy diminishes the product’s reputation.
In this situation, Burger King’s attempt to thrive under the theory that all press is good press is a failure. Algorithmic success does not always translate to business success. It is a line all brands on social media have to tread. In the end, having a post that matches the brand identity is more important than focusing on the algorithm.
In regard to handling the crisis, Burger King acknowledged their misstep. They did this by apologizing, explaining the intentions of the tweet, and promising to do better in the future. I do not think that this was the worst way to handle the situation; however, they were lacking an explanation for the stunt approach in itself and left the original tweet up for hours before responding to gain attention.
A lesson all PR professionals working for brands can take away from this is that social media is a powerful tool that can either elevate or hurt a brand. Using social media carefully is an extremely important job because each post could not only negatively impact the brand, but also the average content consumer.
To prevent an issue like the one from Burger King’s Twitter, educate yourself on the social media trend and its origins before hopping on a bandwagon. Additionally, consider if your post can be interpreted as anything but the intended message. Then, you may be able to use social media for your brand responsibly.
Ella Gammill is a journalism and mass communications student at Samford University. She is currently located in Birmingham, Alabama and is interested in a career in public relations. She is passionate about public relations, media, and its influence on culture.