Do social media stunts hurt brands?

This social media pro says yes, because they raise customer expectations too high. Do you agree?

We don’t love companies, we tolerate them.

Only 48 percent of Americans trust business, according to the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s easy to think of companies’ involvement in social media as a necessary evil, especially in this social media age where corporations’ missives are displayed with those of our family and friends.

Businesses try to counteract our distrust by behaving more like citizens, with snappy status updates, grainy Instagram photos, and lots of pronoun usage. Even Facebook acknowledges that it intended Timeline—and the corresponding death of default landing tabs—to force companies to be more human.

The art of the humanization gambit is the seemingly random stunts that smash our expectations for a how a brand should behave. These usually involve some sort of over-the-top gesture on the part of the company, like Peter Shankman’s interaction with Morton’s steakhouse at Newark Airport last year.

Other examples include KLM’s surprise program and, recently, DoubleTree Hotels’ birthday for A.J.

Does social media stunt marketing hurt brands?

In the Doubletree example, a reservations agent for the Doubletree in Cocoa Beach, Fla., discovered a father was bringing his son to the area for his 4th birthday. The agent delivered cupcakes, a birthday card, boogie board, and other goodies to the room before their arrival.

There’s almost nothing better than making little kids happy, and this incident promptly went big on, accumulating some 4.5 million views.

It’s a neat story. It created a lot of exposure for the brand. It’s a human tale that went viral. It’s a great example of employees that are able to work off-script and do something special for no apparent reason. After all, social business is about action, not words.

But it’s still a stunt, and for me, customer service is about scalability, consistency and reliability, not randomly delighting kids when an opportunity presents itself.

More to the point, do the 4.5 million people who viewed this story have a markedly different opinion of Doubletree Hotels that will eventually manifest in bookings and brand loyalty? Or has the brand set itself up to disappoint 4.5 million people who won’t find a boogie board in their hotel rooms?

In many ways, this type of social media stunt epitomizes our modern culture—we use technology to present a curated and improved version of ourselves and our lives.

We share pithy quotes on Facebook, not the thousands of mundane things we think. We share interesting photos on Instagram that make us seem worldly and fascinating, not the thousands of mundane images that flitter across our retinas. We upload airbrushed versions of ourselves on (or so I’m told) and claim an exaggerated interest in whitewater rafting.

Do all brands do the same thing? Do they make us think they’re different and will treat us as special when, in reality, they aren’t and won’t?

Jay Baer is a social media strategy consultant, speaker, and co-author of “The NOW Revolution.” He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a social media strategy firm, and he blogs at the Convince & Convert social media strategy blog, where this article originally ran.

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