For years now, brands have aspired to be conversationalists, to participate in the social fray with real-time responses.
Doing so comes with risks and rewards. And while there’s no rule book to consult, there are best practices that have been built up around how to manage the social conversation around a brand. But what about when things go wrong? There are always angry Facebook commenters, inappropriate hashtag takeovers and more, and everyday consumers now have potentially significant enough reach to greatly impact, positively or negatively, any brand’s social presence. And when the altercation involves a (semi) famous social commentator who loves your brand too much, things become more complicated, as LaCroix Water recently found out.
The brand has long been beloved by comedian and writer (Parks and Rec, Kroll Show) Joe Mande. With more than a million followers, Mande tweets often, often outrageously, and since 2012 has been actively petitioning LaCroix Water to become the brand’s spokesperson. All this time, Mande has been providing free advertising for the beverage to a substantial following, but in late April it all went south when the funnyman received a cease and desist letter from the brand politely asking that he stop referring to himself as a spokesperson. This did not go over well (Mande tweeted an image of the letter).
All the energy Mande had poured into his love for the brand was now being used against it.
Mande is no slouch when it comes to Twitter feuds–just ask Gilbert Arenas. And Lacroix seemingly made a hash of the situation by lawyering up and allowing itself to be cast as the corporate spoilsport. But what was the correct course of action? We asked a few experts in social media and real-time marketing for advice.
According to 360i’s vice-president of strategy Shankar Gupta, this was really a no-win for LaCroix. “They were getting flak from some of their fans about the stuff Mande was saying, and they faced a backlash if they took any action at all against him,” says Gupta. “Ultimately, though, they had to address it, because there was a ton of confusion out there about Mande’s relationship to the brand.”
But as in life, it’s not necessarily what you do, it’s how you do it. LaCroix moved pretty quickly from speaking with Mande over Twitter to bringing in its lawyers. Gupta says cease and desist notices in particular can look especially bad in the social sphere. “They’re produced by the legal department and designed to be serious and scary so they produce the desired result, but if they get posted on social media, they can really damage the voice you’re cultivating for your brand,” says Gupta. “When you’re sending one to someone who builds their personal brand by creating controversy on Twitter, you have to go in with the presumption that anything you send privately will be posted publicly. So, in this case, you really need your PR team and your legal team to collaborate to ensure that you get the message across in the right tone, or you risk sounding like a big, faceless corporation.”
Leila Thabet, managing director of We Are Social, says there are really only two ways to approach this situation: embrace or refrain. For the former, see Charmin’s response to a tweet from comedian Rob Delaney. “By responding with humor the brand embraced the situation and turned it into an advantage,” says Thabet.
The alternative, and often-recommended course of action, is to not participate in the conversation at all. The rationale being that you can’t control online conversations about your brand and trying to do so puts the brand at risk of negative attention. Thabet says this would’ve been her agency’s advice for LaCroix. “Particularly given that Joe Mande wasn’t being derogatory about the brand–in fact quite the opposite,” says Thabet. “They simply didn’t feel that he represents the brand image they are trying to portray. In this situation the brand has not only elicited criticism but also positioned themselves as elitist and selective about who they believe should be consuming their product. A dangerous strategy for any brand.”