How Cheerios stumbled into a social media firestorm

As millions mourned the death of Prince, the cereal’s Twitter team inserted the brand into the grieving with a tweet that quickly elicited scorn. Here’s what to keep in mind in such situations.

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Social media can be tricky.

The recent death of iconic musician Prince unsurprisingly generated a tidal wave of social media buzz. Among the many heartfelt messages were tributes from big music brands such as Spotify and Pandora, and even unrelated brands like Chevrolet.

One Twitter post, however, stood out from the rest.

This seemingly harmless tweet by Cheerios went viral—the bad kind of viral. Many people shamed the brand and its parent company, General Mills, for taking advantage of Prince’s death to sell their product. The weird part, though, is that other companies posted similar tweets. Chevrolet even included an image of a Chevy in its tribute image but didn’t receive nearly the same negative response.

Where did the Cheerios social media team go wrong? What should it have done instead?

Here’s some advice for sharing branded content during times of mourning:

Be genuine.

Genuine respect for your audience is arguably the most important part of branded content. One reason branded content exists is that people grew tired of traditional marketing treating them like nothing more than wallets.

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