As the COVID-19 outbreak began last month, I noticed there seemed to be two kinds of brands. Those who went quiet and were going through the crisis communications playbook when it came to content on social channels.
And, those who decided to switch it up, adapt to the new circumstances and take some calculated risks.
It’s been fascinating to watch.
Now, some of these new approaches have been riskier than others. But, the point is these seven brands adapted and changed quickly to their new environments and they acted decisively and knowing full-well they were taking a bit of a gamble.
Let’s look at a few of the more prominent examples.
Steak Umms takes a (big) stand on Twitter
friendly reminder in times of uncertainty and misinformation: anecdotes are not data. (good) data is carefully measured and collected information based on a range of subject-dependent factors, including, but not limited to, controlled variables, meta-analysis, and randomization
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) April 7, 2020
This list probably starts and ends with Steak Umms. But, I didn’t want to have a list of one! But, the brand’s decision to use its Twitter account as a voice of reason in a sea of disinformation during the oubreak was a bold one. I mean, who wanted or needed frank media literacy advice from a frozen steak food? APPARENTLY WE ALL DID!
Coke devotes its Twitter feed to help the needy
Coke made the interesting decision earlier this month to devote its entire Twitter feed to promoting and highlighting its non-profit partners. Makes sense, right? Especially given consumers are looking for brands to take leadership right now. But, still a big move by a monster company who would easily be talking about any number of things right now.
General Mills is using Zoom to interview execs on key COVID-related topics
General Mills’ social team didn’t sit idly around very long–they started interviewing key executives a couple weeks ago around COVID-related topics. Most recently, just yesterday, they interviewed their vice president of consumer insights to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and food trends.
Domino’s uses Zoom to produce recruiting commercial
This wasn’t a purely social play, but Domino’s was one of the first companies I noticed to use ALL Zoom footage to create a legit commercial. In this case, it featured the company’s franchisees in an effort to bolster recruiting (big message right now with millions of people out of work).
Best Buy shares CEO video message initially aimed at employees on LinkedIn
Best Buy stole a page out of Microsoft’s playbook when it posted a message from CEO, Corie Barry, this week that was initially shared with employees. Very transparent. Very honest. It’s something Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is famous for–sharing employee-only memos on Microsoft’s social media channels. Nice to see a local company doing that here in Minnesota.
Walmart uses employee-generated content to thank front-line workers
Oh, I know: This isn’t all that ground-breaking. But it is when you’re one of the largest companies in the world. Their resources are vast and deep. They could have taken any number of approaches. But, the decision to feature employee-generated content on the Walmart Facebook page was a big one. They also featured many employee-generated snippets in their recent ad you’ve undoubtedly seen by now.
Life Time taking a big-time stand behind its CEO
If you have ever met Braham Akradi, you’re not surprised by the message he shared on his web site (and on the Life Time LinkedIn page) in March about the urgency to get back to some kind of “new normal” and to set a date. As far as I could tell, at the time, he was the only business leader making this claim and outlining a clear plan for what he’d like to see done. Talk about taking a stand.
If you live in the Twin Cities, chances are, by now you’ve probably heard 2017 is the Mall of America’s 25th birthday. They just had a huge celebration for the actual birthday a couple weeks ago–and the coverage was everywhere (nice work Sarah Grap!).
MOA has actually been a fairly big part of my life–especially for the last 13 years. When we moved to south Minneapolis in 2004, our new home was less than five miles from the mall. And, when we had our first child, MOA provided endless hours of “entertainment”–we spent many Saturday and Sunday mornings walking around the mall with our son and daughter and drinking our coffees.
So, the 25th anniversary piqued my curiousity. I wonder what MOA had been up to on the social front? Historically, they’ve been an enveloper-pusher, especially back when people like Lisa Grimm and Bridget Jewell were helping out.
Turns out, MOA is doing some interesting things with its (relatively newly revamped) blog, 55425.
So, I sat down with Timothy Pate, digital project manager at MOA and talked about the blog and how MOA is using it to drive awareness and interest for the popular international destination.
First, when did you change from the former blog format to the new version? Why?
Tim: My first project was relaunching the 55425 blog. With the former blog, the content was almost strictly promotional–it just wasn’t very engaging and featured mostly deals and events. So, we had a great opportunity to redesign and go in with a fresh approach to content. We chose to focus on three verticals for content: Culture, Entertainment, and Style.
Why the name 55425?
Tim: It’s the zip code the mall resides in. And, it highlights the impact the mall has in our own backyard. The mall is so large and has so much to offer that it often times is compared to a small city, so we thought it would be fun way to symbolize the vast majority of topics one can read about in our blog
Who is the team in charge of managing the blog?
Tim: I’m the primary editor of the blog, but we have a number of employees that contribute articles to the blog on a regular basis. We actually have a lot of good writers on staff, but writing isn’t their primary job. We ask everyone from interns to VPs to contribute. In total, we have 16 writers and we ask them to contribute one post a month. We give them a lot of rope to develop stories. For example, Amy Struve is our entertainment editor. But, she’s also a huge sports fan, so she’s written stories about sports as well. One of our previous interns, Lisa, has been dying to write something around plus-size fashion so we gave her that opportunity.
What’s been your content strategy to date?
We try to organize our content around our major campaigns throughout the year (back to school, holiday, spring break, etc.). We try to integrate our posts with these major themes. On the other hand, we are pretty nimble, too. For example, we wrote this post around Pokemon stops at the mall last year–it’s maybe our most popular post so far.
How do you go about brainstorming content ideas?
The editor for each section of the blog holds their own brainstorm meetings–usually monthly. At the same time, we also hold a larger brainstorming with everyone involved once a month.
You also mentioned you share a “Blog Handbook” with authors before they contribute content–can you talk more about that?
The blog handbook simply introduces authors to the certain types of content we write about. It also touches on our voice, the MOA style guide, the process for requesting photos, and story ideas. Basically, it’s our reference menu for people who want to write for the blog. The 10-page handbook also includes a post template–title, subhead, how to link to stories, how to use WordPress.
What has worked so far, and what hasn’t?
Our more “in the moment” posts have worked well so far. Any posts that focus on food at the mall usually perform pretty well, too (like this recent post discussing chocolates at MOA).
On the other hand, the Q&A posts with celebrities that are visiting the mall have performed decent, but they just haven’t been worth the effort (and they require a lot of time, as you might imagine). Also, our “this month on Instagram” posts have been a lot of work, too. Not sure those have been worth the time either.
Then, we have one series we’re still evaluating: Our partnership with MSP Communications. We contracted with MSP to write one post a week for 25-weeks–25 stories approaching the lead up to our actual birthday (August 11). The idea? To get an outsider’s perspective and voice on the mall. So far, it’s worked pretty well, but we’ll explore guest posting more in the months ahead.
What’s been the one post that’s surprised you, in terms of audience reaction?
Our 25th anniversary stories–those talking about how people have connected with the mall over the years (like this post about people who have been married at MOA over the years)–surprised us. People have such an emotional and nostalgic connection with the mall. And, a lot of times, they want to share those memories on social media. We didn’t necessarily anticipate that.
How do you measure results? How often do you measure/share?
Traffic has increased month over month since we relaunched the blog two years ago. We also look at where traffic comes from. We’re an international destination, so what people from Germany and China are reading on the blog matters a lot to us. We also review how long people are staying on the blog.
Anything to add?
A big part of the purpose of the blog is to bring the human part of the mall to life. As has been widely reported, malls are dying. But we’re thriving! That’s because we’re more than just a mall–we’re a destination and a culmination of the best in retail, food, and entertainment.
A few weeks ago, while checking Twitter, I happened across an interesting hash tag:
I decided to participate:
— arikhanson (@arikhanson) May 8, 2017
A few days later, I received the following DM from the @Oreo account:
A special surprise from the Wonder Vault? Now I was excited! I mean, actually kinda genuinely excited and curious (mostly because we don’t have Oreos in the house anymore, or I and my kids would eat an entire box in 5 minutes flat).
A couple weeks later, I received said surprise in the mail. Here’s what I received:
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) June 13, 2017
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) June 13, 2017
By now, we’re all kinda United’ed out, aren’t we?
My Facebook feed was full of people still talking about it last week.
My LinkedIn feed is STILL full of people opining about the incident.
And, most (if not all) of this commentary has been highly critical of United.
PEPSI: We made the biggest PR blunder of any major company this year.
UNITED: Hold my beer.
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) April 10, 2017
And that’s what’s bothered me most about this whole fiasco: Our industry’s penchant for analyzing these crisis incidents, playing Monday Morning Quarterback and being highly critical of the company in question’s PR strategy.
Because really, we should know better. Right?
How could we possibly sit here, analyze United’s actions and have any idea what’s going on behind closed doors?
We don’t know the political pressures at play internally. Maybe the United CEO was hell-bent on coming out with that initial statement backing his employees. Maybe the PR team got completely overruled. Wouldn’t be the first time.
That whole “over-accomodated” language–you don’t think that was driven COMPLETELY by legal? We’ll never know, but that would be my guess having worked with legal teams in the past. Again, PR team: Overruled.
We don’t know how many cooks are in the proverbial kitchen at United. Sometimes different executives not at all connected to PR get involved in the decision making for various reasons. Maybe one of those people had more input than he/she should have had. Again, PR team: Overruled.
Point is: We weren’t in those meetings. We are not United employees. We’re not privy to the details and strategy. So, it’s a little hard to analyze and say “here’s what I would have done” when that’s most likely not realistic at all considering all the other players involved, the politics, and the climate at United.
Ideally, yeah, I’m sure United and its PR team would have wanted to do a lot of things differently. But, so much of that is out of PR’s control. And, we all know that, right? Many of us have worked with and for big companies. We KNOW the politics involved–and how strong they can figure in. We KNOW the legal team has a strong seat at the table and often overrules PR (for better or worse). And we KNOW there are strong personalities within most organizations that drive the agenda.
We know all that, yet we still comment as if we know better.
I would have thought we were smarter by now.
Apparently, I was wrong.
Apparently, we’ll go on critiquing companies as if we know better.
Last Sunday, most of us tuned it to watch the Super Bowl. And many of us tuned in more for the commercials and entertainment than for the actual game (who cares about another Patriots championship anyway? YAWN!).
One of the more interesting developments of the evening was one I wasn’t expecting: The most interesting Super Bowl commercial had nothing to do with selling products.
It was 84 Lumber’s “Mother/Daughter” spot–and it was focused squarely on helping 84 Lumber hire and recruit prospective employees.
That’s right: A Super Bowl ad that promoted a company’s EMPLOYER BRAND.
I can’t remember ever seeing that before.
Here’s the second (longer) spot:
And, here’s the “Entire Journey”:
The spots point at a landing page where prospective candidates can see the video above and research and company a bit by visiting the brand’s social channels and checking out their Glassdoor page.
Prospective employees can even fill out a quick form to request a recruiter contact them and help them identify the right opportunity at 84 Lumber.
Interesting, right? But, it makes complete sense when you consider 84 Lumber is opening 20 new stores in 2017 and hiring “hundreds” of new employees (according to this USA Today story).
So, that Employer Brand angle is interesting enough. But then it got really intriguing when the (expected) backlash came.
Since the ad obviously toed political lines with its storyline (a mother/daughter looking to immigrate to what appears to be the U.S.) and powerful visuals (“the wall”), people were bound to be upset–on both sides.
And, that’s just what 84 Lumber saw.
They saw what I’m guessing were expected comments about illegal immigrants working for them:
They saw the requisite comments about immigration policy:
They even saw some pretty negative comments about people who refused to do business with them as a result of the spot:
Overall, I thought 84 Lumber handled this blowback fairly well. They responded in a timely manner (lots of replies on Super Bowl Sunday). They responded with consistent language. And, they responded to a lot of negative remarks other companies simply don’t have the stomach to handle. I tend to think they should be applauded for that (political affiliations aside).
Then, it got really interesting when it became public that 84 Lumber CEO, Maggie Hardy Magerko, was a Trump supporter. That added a political component to this story that already had a big dose of it.
Again, 84 Lumber responded–with this right at the top of their Twitter account:
Overall, really interesting case study from a couple different angles:
- Employer brand focus — I think this was indicative of what you’re going to see more of in the year ahead: More brands investing more heavily in “employer brand marketing” as a complement to traditional recruiting efforts. This is a burgeoning sector of social media marketing right now–and I think you’re going to see many more companies investing in it this year as the need to recruit the best and brightest in different industries increases.
- Social crisis management with a political twist — Obviously, this is a very hot topic right now: How companies communicate/market and navigate the dangerous political waters. In this instance, 84 Lumber took a pretty strong stance. And, they stood by that stance when the heat was turned up. Again, politics aside, that should be applauded. I actually wish we saw more of that in corporate America. Who knows? Maybe we will, given how high the stakes have become.