Are you committing a brand TMI?

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The old adage, “There is a time and place for everything,” is fitting for most all situations we encounter as individuals. But, what about in the case of our brands? As it is important for a company to develop a personality as a way to interact with key publics, it is equally important to be careful not to share too much. Shama Kabani, author of “The Zen of Social Media Marketing” and CEO of Marketing Zen Group, discussed in a recent Forbes article, her disbelief at the number of businesses who declared their political affiliations during the 2012 election.

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imagesShe raised an excellent point, “Immediately, they alienated half their customers.” Kabani mentioned seeing several shares by different brands and companies, of a false Donald Trump meme stating that Obama was born in Kenya. She suggests that businesses didn’t think twice about the re-posting the image, because they didn’t personally develop it…they were only sharing it. However, she went on to explain, “What you share is a reflection of you and your business, so you have to be very careful.” And the same can be said about almost any other polarizing topic– be it social or personal preferences.

So where is the line drawn between personality (which is so important) and personal (which isn’t entirely necessary) for a brand? Where is the TMI (too much information) guidepost?

When it comes to creating online content, most companies try to seek out hot topics or current events to join in on the conversation, in a relevant way. And as they eagerly begin voicing their thoughts on the web, thinking they are onto something good, they can actually tarnish their brand’s reputation, if not careful.

A study (http://bit.ly/15UZZh0) from The Global Strategy Group suggests that brands tread carefully on hot topics–Most U.S. adults believe business should remain relevant and current on the news, but not weigh in on political topics and societal issues that do not relate to their industry.

An example of the harm that can come from weighing in where you aren't welcome– a few tasteless tweets from Gilbert Gottfried, comedian and former voice of the Aflac duck. During the Japanese tsunami crisis, Gottfried tweeted, “Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them.” and “What do the Japanese have in common with @howardstern? They're both radioactive.”

What he failed to consider was that Aflac was the top foreign insurance company in Japan, according to Mashable, and gained 75 percent of its revenue from that market. As a result, Gottfried was fired and Aflac suffered the loss of many, rightfully offended, customers.

What should your brand do?

Is it acceptable to voice your company’s opinion on social and political issues, and if so, how can you talk about important issues without losing key publics, or sight of your brand’s central messages? First, a company needs to be clear on its audiences and what they are willing to allow the brand to express. And this extends to how you communicate with them regularly. If your publics are coming to you as an expert source in parenting to help solve those “first child troubles,” they probably are not looking for your political opinion. However, if you are an edgy consumer brand that thrives on debate, you have more leeway.

For example, Kenneth Cole attracts its customers and followers for its good taste in fashion, not for its insight on current events. When the designer himself tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo.” Because #Cairo was trending globally in 2011 during the political unrest in Egypt, the result was in especially poor taste, which is the opposite of how the company wants to be portrayed.

Think about it this way, if you are a food blogger and your audience comes to your page to search for the best macaroni and cheese recipe, they probably don’t want to hear about how you just changed your car’s oil or took your dog to the groomer. The take-home point—don’t try to be everything to your stakeholders. They want to engage with you how have come to expect to, and that is where your expertise lies.

Commenting on or briefly referencing current news is perfectly fine, but staying in that space, focusing your brand’s valuable energy there and ignoring what your stakeholders are coming to you for, will result in a quick loss of interest. Or worse.

How do you keep your brand on track with your external communication? Have you ever made any of these missteps? How did you recover?

Lisa Tilt is Founder and President of Full Tilt Consulting (www.FullTiltConsulting.com), a national brand development and strategy firm. Contact her at lisa(at)fulltiltconsulting(dot)com.

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