When 93% of marketers use social media for business, it can take a bold move to stand out. Whether those bold moves are attempts to humanize their brand, generate buzz or connect with an audience, some companies do bold better.
1) JCPenney “Tweeting With Mittens”
JCPenney has been struggling over the past few years to make up for declining sales, an ousted CEO and its loss of over a million customers. The department store turned to social media during the 2014 Super Bowl to humor its followers and make a better name for itself with these bold tweets:
Toughdown Seadawks!! Is sSeattle going toa runaway wit h this???
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) February 3, 2014
Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle. #lowsscorinh 5_0
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) February 2, 2014
The tweets caused plenty of buzz with people speculating that the company’s social media manager might be drunk or that their Twitter account was hacked. Even other brands poked fun at JCPenney’s tweets:
Hey @jcpenney need a designated driver?
— Kia America (@Kia) February 3, 2014
Eat a #SNICKERS, you’re not you when you're hungry RT @JCPenney Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle. #lowsscorinh 5_0
— SNICKERS (@SNICKERS) February 3, 2014
Slow down, @jcpenney. Have some #Doritos.
— Doritos (@Doritos) February 3, 2014
.@JCPenney We know football goes great with Coors Light, but please tweet responsibly.
— Coors Light (@CoorsLight) February 3, 2014
After nearly an hour’s worth of mysterious tweets, JCPenney revealed that they were, in fact, tweeting with mittens. JCPenney sent a tweet picturing their Team USA mittens holding a phone along with the hashtag #TweetingWithMittens. The mittens were sold in support of the Winter Olympics with proceeds benefiting U.S. Olympic Committee.
Oops…Sorry for the typos. We were #TweetingWithMittens. Wasn't it supposed to be colder? Enjoy the game! #GoTeamUSA pic.twitter.com/e8GvnTiEGl
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) February 3, 2014
The big reveal behind the incoherent tweets didn’t receive nearly as much attention as the previous “mitten” tweets, having been retweeted just 3,750 times compared to the 40,000 retweets between the first two.
JCPenney brought a lot of attention to themselves and engaged several other major companies, exponentially increasing the reach for those tweets. Organically capturing the attention of tens of thousands of Twitter users during the Super Bowl is a definite plus, seeing as a 30-second advertisement slot runs for around $4 million.
While JCPenney was able to engage different companies, some of them may have stolen the spotlight away from JCPenney with their own witty responses. People were more so laughing along with the brands who poked fun at the puzzling JCPenney tweets than engaging with the JCPenney brand. Twitter users also mused that the mittens tweet was a cover-up for a drunken social media manager. Regardless, it caused a lot of confusion – which isn’t good for any brand.
2) Walmart vs. The New York Times
When New York Times reporter Timothy Egan wrote the column “The Corporate Daddy”, we didn’t expect Walmart’s Vice President of Corporate Communications to retaliate in such a bold way. David Tovar responded on behalf of Walmart – or “the corporate monolith” as Egan calls it – by posting an edited version of Egan’s article on Walmart’s blog.
“Tim – Thanks for sharing your first draft,” Tovar begins. “Below are a few thoughts to ensure something inaccurate doesn’t get published. Hope this helps.” Tovar proceeded to mark up Egan’s article with a red pen like a school teacher- marking inaccuracies and providing evidence for the real facts. In the age of instant feedback and social media, Walmart’s response was an extremely bold move.
Tovar began the editing by adding in some missing facts.
He then decided to get extremely technical and analyzed every “fact” Egan included.
He also decided to suggest a perhaps more credible source.
Walmart stood up up for itself using a nontraditional method that grabbed attention. It could have gone the more traditional route and simply ignored the article or issued an official statement in response, but not many people would care or notice. This sassy yet clever response gave Walmart the upper hand and allowed the corporation to stick up for itself in a more entertaining and humanistic way. For a company that gets a lot of backlash, it certainly made us root for it this time.
Walmart’s response could seem condescending or make the corporation appear to be a bully. However, Walmart provided evidence to back up its claims of false information – so we can’t really accuse them of being pretentious.
3) FAFSA Attempts Memes
Memes have become an internet sensation beloved by many. Perhaps thats why The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S. used by nearly every college student, tried their go at them.
When FAFSA sent out the tweet pictured below, it was quickly met with backlash and FAFSA deleted it shortly after. If making light of hundreds of thousands of students struggling to pay for the rising cost of education isn’t bold, we don’t know what is.
Good morning @FAFSA. Why mock poor people trying to get a #college education? #AskFAFSA #DegreesNotDebt pic.twitter.com/0Jka02tAHU
— Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi) June 25, 2014
FAFSA issued an apology on Twitter saying, “We apologize for the insensitivity of our previous tweet. Our goal is to make college a reality for all. We’re very sorry.” As it turns out, college students do not love memes as much as they hate being mocked for financial struggles.
We’re guessing FAFSA’s intent wasn’t malicious. They were probably just trying to effectively reach their target audience of college aged people by quoting a popular movie and using a meme. Not a bad idea in theory.
Despite assumed good intent, FAFSA received a lot of backlash from their tweet. Poverty and access to higher education is simply not a laughing matter. Filling out financial aid paperwork is not typically what anyone desires to do, and FAFSA just made everyone feel a little worse about it.
4) CIA Joins Twitter
The Central Intelligence Agency took the plunge into the world of social media in early June. Not many people expected to see the intelligence agency on social media and we certainly didn’t expect them to have a sense of humor.
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.
— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
Their first tweet, “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet”, received a great deal of attention – 300K+ retweets – and left people speculating on how the CIA would be able to maintain a Twitter account. Seeing as the CIA is notoriously secretive and tends to get a bad rap for its controversial missions, having a go at social media is a rather bold move in itself.
So far, the CIA’s tweets have been a mix of history, CIA job profiles and much to everyone’s surprise – humor. In honor of completing their first month on Twitter, the CIA decided to respond to the top 5 questions people had been asking using the hashtag #twitterversary. Their responses took us by surprise and left a lot of people laughing. These are some favorites:
No, we don’t know your password, so we can’t send it to you. #sorrynotsorry #twitterversary
— CIA (@CIA) July 7, 2014
Sorry for not following you back @TheEllenShow. But if you visit us maybe we can take a selfie? #twitterversary
— CIA (@CIA) July 7, 2014
No, we don’t know where Tupac is. #twitterversary
— CIA (@CIA) July 7, 2014
The CIA joining social media opens up a whole new playing field for them. The agency’s ultra-secrecy and inaccessibility leaves a lot of room for speculation – which hasn’t been exactly positive. They are starting a conversation with the public, which can ultimately lead to creating more trust with the general population. By showing their sense of humor, the CIA creates a more positive image and is able to connect with the public they protect. This can be an effective strategy to convey important information while simultaneously personalizing the agency that rarely converses with the public.
Some don’t find the CIA as funny as others. Former CIA officer Bob Baer told CNN, “I’m sort of old school, and I think intelligence agencies should stay out of the news as much as they can. This is all supposed to be secret, and you know, humor isn’t its strong suit.” Others speculate that its a lame attempt to distract journalists from their dirty work. This brings into play a question a lot of companies have to answer in the internet age – can serious work co-exist with humorous tweets?
It takes guts to be bold when thousands, and in some cases millions, of people are watching and can instantly respond to you. Companies must be careful when deciding to stand out of the social media crowd and be prepared for a tidal wave of mixed responses from the public. Is bold really better? If done right, it can give your brand a more positive image, create more connections, increase online visibility, and of course, entertain the masses.
–Jessica Cook, Summer 2014 Intern