The culinary website Epicurious did not do the best job with its social media strategy surrounding the Boston Marathon tragedy. Initially, the company made the wise decision to post a non-promotional tribute tweet. “Our thoughts are with everyone in Boston,” Epicurious posted – simple, short, sweet, and smart.
But less than an hour later, Epicurious went back to posting its own promotional tweets, at a time when it would have probably been best to stay silent in reverence.
Things went even further downhill the following morning. Epicurious reportedly fell into the “ambulance chasing” trap and attempted to use the tragedy to promote its own brand in two tweets containing links to recipes: “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today:” and “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!”
In addition to the fact that the strange correlation made these tweets quite awkward, many Twitter users found the posts insensitive and offensive. And they quickly let Epicurious know.
Epicurious deleted the inconsiderate posts and began sending apologies to all those who had expressed outrage. Yet, the company didn’t get this move quite right either.
First of all, Epicurious sent the exact same reply to every single person. Not only is this rather embarrassing since the posts were publicly visible to all of its followers, but doing so was impersonal and didn’t leave a good impression on their critics.
Also, the repetitive apology tweet read: “We truly regret that our earlier food tweets seemed insensitive. Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Boston.” Epicurious expressed remorse that the posts “seemed” insensitive, not that they were insensitive. This poor word choice placed the fault on the reader’s interpretations of the content rather than on Epicurious’ bad taste in posting them.
Finally, the company seemed to find its way. It stopped posting repetitive replies and tweeted a seemingly authentic apology: “Our food tweets this morning were, frankly, insensitive. Our deepest, sincere apologies.”
While real-time marketing can be powerful and viral, as Oreo proved with its Super Bowl tweet, companies should think twice before linking their sales pitches to tragic events. In the case of Epicurious, their efforts were offensive and tacky. Companies should stick to utilizing real-time marketing opportunities when there is a logical connection to their businesses, instead of trying to stretch their brand as a fit for every event or trending conversation (as many did for The Oscars.)
It is also critical for organizations today to constantly stay abreast of breaking news and to adjust their social media strategies accordingly. Numerous brands have run into criticism for posting regularly scheduled promotional messages when the world is focused on a tragedy. Communications professionals must be always mindful and prepared to pivot at moment’s notice. Otherwise, social media posts may not only receive little traction, but actually generate negative buzz. The immediacy of social media is one of its biggest benefits, but it is also a reason that its use should be well-calculated. The timing of posts can be just as critical as the content that they include.