Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Social media: The double-edged sword

Updated Aug 17, 2017 08:41am
Digital mishaps – why they happen and how to avoid them.

First off, I’m not here to bash Espresso because that has been done to death and it is quite obvious that their intention was not to make fun of a 12-year-old boy who was tragically run over by the motorcade of a political party; and people who suggest this was the intent, lack the same common sense they are accusing the brand of. In fact, the sarcastic message was meant to make you think about the lack of empathy our elite have.

Nevertheless, this latest fiasco adds to a long list of local and global missteps by established brands on social media. As is the case when anything backfires on social media, the wording and the timing were off the scale. Yet, it is both rare and decent of the brand to have immediately acknowledged their error and apologised publicly.

This brings us to the crux of this write-up. How do these missteps happen in the first place and what can be done to ensure they don’t happen to your brand too. I mean, come on, one look at these missteps and you think: “What were the agency and the brand teams thinking!” Viewed in isolation, they seem to completely lack basic common sense.

The truth is that no brand wants to intentionally damage itself and it is very rare that the entire chain of approval authority is completely bereft of empathy and common sense. There are many reasons why these things happen and I would like to discuss two of them and the possible solutions.

Firstly, is underestimating the pace at which digital works. Traditional communication is neatly broken down and packaged into thematic or tactical campaigns. These are often developed months in advance, giving the people working on them the time to think things through. Most big brands launch three to six campaigns a year and these are in the planning stages a quarter in advance. Digital communication happens at a frantic pace and if you have elected to cash in on trending topics, your campaign is live and will probably have a full life cycle of a total of 48 hours. When things run at such a fast pace, only tested quality control structures and procedures can act as a check against missteps.

The solution here is that when on digital, start with basic campaigns and slowly work your way up to trending topics. Do not go to the next level unless you are sure your team has mastered the previous one.

Secondly, a lot of brands do not have a standard procedure for approvals. This means that approvals are random and can be given by anyone senior, either at the agency or the brand end. There are two issues here. One, not everyone has the understanding or the language skills to comprehend the total impact of a piece of digital content. Just because you can speak basic English, doesn’t mean you understand the language in its current local or international nuances. Secondly, a consistent approving authority tends to see things in their total progression. Very often things are missed because the approving authority is not aware of the history and/or and context, thereby making missteps possible.


Would you hire a kid out of school to shoot your next TVC? If not, then why are you handing the reputation of your brand to a kid and that too on an unforgiving platform such as social media? It’s like giving the keys to your Ferrari to an 11-year-old and asking him to behave. It’s not a question of IF an accident will happen, but of WHEN it will happen. And when it does, nobody should point to the kid, but to the man who gave him the keys.


Here are some solutions for this.

  1. Have a fixed approval procedure in place consisting of the best and most experienced members of the team in a two or three-layered approval system. Always have a senior person at both the client and agency end as the final approving authority. Millennials understand the mechanics of social media but they might not necessarily have the experience to know what is appropriate and what is not.

  2. Switch from email to WhatsApp. Email cannot keep up with the pace at which things happen in the digital world. You may think that a smartphone that does WhatsApp can also do email, but the reality is that people do not check their email often enough. WhatsApp is a neat tool to keep the relevant communication on a topic in one place in real-time. Demand a similar QC structure at the agency end with clear names against each execution: copy, design, idea, brand stewardship, etc.

  3. Develop clear WRITTEN guidelines of what a content team can venture into and what they cannot touch with a 100-feet bargepole. Constantly update these guidelines with learnings. Giving verbal instructions or vague written ones will result in a disaster.

  4. Work with professionals. If you hire interns to manage your brand, it is not the interns' fault when things go wrong. The responsibility lies with the senior most people in the marketing team. Would you hire a kid out of school to shoot your next TVC? If not, then why are you handing the reputation of your brand to a kid and that too on an unforgiving platform such as social media? It’s like giving the keys to your Ferrari to an 11-year-old and asking him to behave. It’s not a question of IF an accident will happen, but of WHEN it will happen. And when it does, nobody should point to the kid, but to the man who gave him the keys.

  5. Sarcasm and dark humour are a double-edged sword. When executed perfectly, they get the eyeballs and can even go viral. But unless you are 100% confident that you have a team in place capable of dealing with a double-edged sword, avoid the temptation. Greed is a dangerous thing. Opt for a more stable pace of engagement.

  6. Finally, if you do mess up, do not spend time digging in and being stubborn. Social media is both an unforgiving space as well as an understanding one. Everyone hates a stubborn, arrogant brand and it’s easier to quickly forgive one that admits to a mistake, clarifies what went wrong and tenders an apology. That would pretty much kill all the negative conversation.

Do you have any other solutions to avoid social media blunders? I am putting together a more detailed guideline and would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on the subject. You can reach me on syedamirhaleem@gmail.com

Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, KueBall Digital.