Lessons Learned When Newsjacking Goes Awry…

Soci al media is a key marketing tool that no business should overlook. To stay relevant to your audience, this medium requires being fluid and agile while staying up to date on the latest trends, buzz and news. Unfortunately, much of the news and buzz of 2016 has been around some of the great celebrities we’ve lost, including athletes, astronauts, politicians, actors and musicians. Commenting on these tragedies is, obviously, a sensitive matter, making it especially important to exercise caution before casting messages into cyberspace. Unfortunately, too often, even big businesses who we’d assume know better, commit egregious social faux pas.

In her article “Cinnabon Gets Overzealous in Its Twitter Grief for Carrie Fisher” for Entrepreneur, Nina Zipkin looks at examples of companies that flubbed their social media tributes to 2016’s celebrity losses by being a bit too commercial and self-focused. Zipkin writes, “Carrie Fisher’s death this week spurred remembrances of her prodigious writing talent, mental health advocacy and lacerating perspective about women in Hollywood. So Cinnabon decided to post a swiftly deleted tweet about how she had ‘the best buns in the galaxy.’” Ouch.

As you might imagine, the Twittersphere was quick to mock, deride and criticize the self-serving comments. Zipkin suggests that Fisher, who was a well-known actor and humorist in her own career, may have found humor in the bun pun; however, Fisher wasn’t the intended audience here, and many consumers justifiably found the mix of social media tribute and baked goods pun distasteful.

Zipkin also cites a similar example from General Mills earlier this year. “When Prince died this spring, many a tribute included purple in honor of the singer’s signature color. But Cheerios took it a step too far, replacing the dot of the i in its “Rest in Peace” message with, you
guessed it, a cheerio.”

A company’s social media activity certainly needs to be topical, but it also needs to follow some of the basic norms of social interaction. Most people wouldn’t dream of going to a memorial service for the purpose of promoting a small business; but Cinnabon and General Mills have effectively done that this year in their Twitter “tributes” to Fisher and Prince. The lesson here is that if a commercial organization is going to comment at all on the death of a celebrity — or any other tragedy for that matter — it should be done in a way that isn’t even remotely self-serving. These examples show how doing anything else is sure to backfire.


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