When news broke out late last month that Carrie Fisher has passed away, people quickly turned to social media to mourn the loss of the beloved actress. Many honored Fisher by tweeting about her iconic role as Princess Leia on the Star Wars saga. Others heralded Fisher’s contributions to mental health awareness and for being a feminist icon.
Some brands also tweeted about Fisher’s passing—but they quickly drew the ire of the public. This tweet from Cinnabon, in particular, got plenty of attention:
After a lot of backlash, Cinnabon quickly deleted the post and issued an apology. “Our deleted tweet was genuinely meant as a tribute, but we shouldn’t have posted it,” admitted the company. “We are truly sorry.”
Many people defended Cinnabon, saying Fisher would have appreciated the humour of the company’s tweet.
Many Twitter users, however, thought that the tweet was in poor taste, and the fact that the tweet was eventually taken down suggests the company, after hearing what people had to say, agreed with that assessment.
Other brands like Roto-Rooter, the NFL and the Democrats (yep, that’s the political party) also got criticisms for their tweets about Fisher’s death and deleted their posts.
These gaffes highlight the problems and risks associated with real-time social media marketing—the practice of creating content based on what’s currently trending. Popularized by Oreo’s 2013 Super Bowl tweet, real-time marketing is particularly noticeable during big pop-culture moments like awards shows and major live sports events. Recently, however, with the passing of some high-profile celebrities, more brands seem to be getting in trouble for participating in these discussions.
Why tweeting about celebrity deaths is almost never a good idea
When someone passes away, it’s not the right time for clever, pun-ny or irreverent tweets. As Someecard’s Catherine LeClair points out, when brands try to comment on sensitive issues like someone’s death, they take a conversation about a real person and turn into a conversation about them.
“At its most sinister, it’s a chance for a brand to send you the false message that they’re human, and they’re on the right side of the conversation, all as a means of improving your sentiment towards their product,” explains LeClair.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying to humanize your brand. But as marketers, we need to pick our battles, and someone’s death isn’t the right battle.
One brand tweet that got it right was Star Wars, which posted a touching tribute to the star. But there’s a major difference between Star Wars and Cinnabon: one is clearly connected to Fisher’s legacy, while the other isn’t. Also, whereas Cinnabon’s tweet felt self-serving, Star Wars posted something that was a lot more personal and authentic.
3 questions to ask before you post on social media
Cinnabon’s social media mishap is reminder that brands need a set of guidelines on how to approach real-time marketing. Content marketing should be timely, of course, but having clear rules of engagement will help you avoid posting tweets that inadvertently hurt your brand.
As a starting point, I suggest answering these three questions before you hit the “send” button.
- What does this have to do with our brand? There should be an easy-to-see connection between your tweet and your brand. If the celebrity is a spokesperson for your brand, for instance, you could argue that you should publicly offer your condolences. Make sure people can easily see the relevance of the event to your company though.
- Are we offering real value and a unique perspective by posting? Look, posting “RIP” messages is nice and perhaps even well-intentioned. But, in reality, is your company really adding to the conversation? If you were to keep quiet, would anyone notice? The answer is likely “no.”
- What is our real intention? This is the ultimate test. If you were to truly examine why you’re tweeting about someone’s death, you might find that your intentions aren’t completely clean. You want those clicks, that extra traffic. But at what cost?
Brands don’t need to be “on” all the time
Cinnabon’s Carrie Fisher tweet demonstrates that brands don’t need to be part of every conversation on social media. Just because something’s trending doesn’t mean you have to jump on it in the hopes of going viral. When someone dies, keeping quiet is often the most respectful and smartest approach.
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