To Tweet or not to Tweet

Feb 24, 2011

With all great advancements, there is always some fallout. For all the good that social media has provided to both small businesses, as well as mega brands, there is still story after story of social media faux pas that have left company’s PR firms scrambling to undo, fix, and apologize for.

Using discretion on what you post on the Internet has been widely written and warned about, yet, people continue to Tweet, blog and Facebook post inappropriate content that lands them in hot water. People know by now, that you should not post things about your job, boss, fellow employees, or clients. But while there will always be people who don’t understand discretion, or will take the idea of free speech too far, there is an issue that appears hard to pin down because of its relativity: humor.

Earlier this month, American Fashion designer, Kenneth Cole, took the riots in Egypt as a shameless way to promote his new spring line:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC”

Needless to say, this did not go over well. Most of Cole’s campaigns seem to titter on the edge, but this one was clearly over the line.

The problem with humor is that it’s relative. If you’ve ever told a joke to one person and got a huge laugh, but then told the same joke to another, only to receive blank stares, you know what we’re talking about. Playing with edgy humor is always risky.  Usually, it will either go over very well, or completely bomb. Here are a few things to avoid when playing with edgy humor:

Avoid making fun or light of large disasters: As seen in the Kenneth Cole example and Groupon’s Superbowl commercials about Tibet, making light of large scale disasters, both recent, or in the past, is more likely than not, going to be viewed as insensitive and shameless.

Avoid making jokes about race: No business, brand, or person benefits from being considered a racist, and there is no faster way to gain this title than to make race related jokes. Leave this type of humor to the stand-up comedians.

Avoid monetizing at the expense of others: Back in September when the San Bruno explosion and fire destroyed dozens of homes, killed four people, and left many injured, a local café, Onyx Café, put out a tweet offering a place to come and cool off from the fire with a drink. Anything where people were killed or hurt is not something to joke about and will likely cause backlash and negative attention.

While humor is one of the most effective ways to promote a product, brand or business, it can also be very risky. Keep these tips in mind and you are more likely to have a success like the Old Spice campaign and less likely to experience public ridicule like Kenneth Cole.