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  • Writer's pictureryan@socialbrain

Courting disaster; Open-ended activations & getting 'ratioed'

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

In social media marketing what could be better than a newly minted most-liked or most-shared campaign post? Many would say 'that same post with comments!' - rich qualitative feedback from your target audience including praise, or product/ service feedback, straight from the horse's mouth & written on the cave wall for all (well, as many of their network as the platform determines fit) to witness.

Of course brands love to get fans and consumers interacting with their content but, in many recent cases, the comments they've been encouraging via their campaign mechanisms are wholly negative.

Major Australian brands (banks and others) have been falling into the old trap of empowering trolls by asking them to define product acronyms & abbreviations on social channels. The outcome for this strategy can only be negative press as the only psychological benefit on offer to the end user is to vent ire on a public forum.

It seems that this may come as a surprise to some digital marketers in Australia, but regular people do not want to express joy about home-loan products on public forums. In all likelihood they will never have any positive sentiments for the product - only toward the brand that provides it. These current campaigns have exclusively derisive feedback.

A mechanism to encourage positive interaction can be hard to define (this is where social media strategists come into play) and varies wildly from brand-to-brand & product-to-product.

Having created successful campaigns for big & small brands, it never ceases to surprise that checks and balances are not considered early on in the planning phase. So many social campaigns fail to embrace both the quantitative and the qualitative elements of engagement allowing agencies to use opaque, obscurely comparative (usually reach or impression) metrics to sell the idea of success. Success for brands in social media should always imply target engagement that ascribes positive associations to your brand. Reach, and there is something to be said for accuracy, is something that can simply be purchased.

The common phrase for ending up on the receiving end of these 'hate-magnet' campaigns is to be 'Ratioed'. Initially this referred to a post that received double the amount of comments to shares but now implies a simply higher than normal ratio of comments per posts on a given platform - all of which are a mocking attack or dismissal of the content.

No brand wants to get 'ratioed' but social platforms' algorithms tend to reward playful comments (often implying cajoling, negative, or outright hateful comments) more than public praise. Over the last few election cycles this tendency to encourage bile and intolerance has come to prominence and it is now consuming much of the bandwidth of soicial policy wonks and tech billionaires over issues as broad as bullying, racism, election tampering and violent attacks.

Among the famous corporate social fails, McDonalds & British Gas crashed and burned spectacularly with undirected comment-courting Twitter campaigns not unlike what Aussie banks and doing today.

British Gas'#AskBG social Q&A campaign was intended to assuage anger over a base price hike. The concept likely seemed bold at the time, but the result - public mockery and ire venting - was inevitable.

The mechaism was straight forward, and this simplicity must have been sold in as a form of 'berrier-less participation'; Customers were asked to address questions about British Gas to a customer service director via the hashtag #AskBG on Twitter. The fallout was instant and severe, running the gamut of chastising BG over profits to pillorying their total lack of social media acumen,

McDonald's had similar results when they asked social users to share their experiences with the brand in the #McDStories campaign Simply put the McDonald's marketing team overrated the power of their brand in terms of generating compelling, unguided stories from customers. In hindsight, it's obvious that only haters would have any real motivation to become part of the storytelling mechanism they deployed.

Open product-naming campaigns have been as problematic - The British Antarctic Survey's #NameOurShip poll produced the now infamous 'Boaty McBoatface' as run-away winner & Mountain Dew's #DubTheDew product naming campaign had even more dire results

There is no 'teflon approach' that will exclusively guarantee a certain timbre of response (deactivate public comments at your peril), so a truly great campaign concept has to be strong enough withstand a modest amount of mockery while getting the public to convert, participate, tell their story and remember your brand positively.

While it is unrealistic to say all negativity can be avoided - inertia can be put behind the positive with a guided campaign mechanism that ensures participants must jump through certain hoops to join-in. This type of campaign will winnow out casual hate and ensure that brand-fans will increase as a percentage of total participants. A solid campaign mechanism can even allow results to be stage-managed through selective online publishing - something that the platform themselves now impose through pay-to-play algorithms.

Brands need to know their platforms, users, targets, and trends well enough to shape campaigns toward positive results beyond reach and impressions. The rewards for such knowledge can be huge - Done well, brands and organisations stand to gain the highest media value to investment, and brand memorability that not only enjoys temporary spikes, but becomes engrained in the public consciousness for years, and immediate conversion spikes that more than match efforts using legacy media formats.

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