We’re on Day Five of the Olympics and Twitter is out in front with visualizations that attempt to capture the full scope of their related social media postings. They have an interactive map that shows which countries are creating the most Twitter Olympic buzz. They have a full-page grid that shows the most-shared Olympic photos. And they have a completely crazy web that shows which Olympic athletes follow other athletes and which don’t.
Over on the branded side of Twitter, things aren’t running so smoothly. Several Olympic sponsors have had their hashtags co-oped by angry Tweeters who want to make a statement.
Now McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Proctor&Gamble are, in a way, paying to promote the political views of others. What to do? What to do? If they respond to the Tweets, that’s going to blow up in their face. If they don’t respond, then they look like they’re agreeing with one side or the other and that’s not good either way.
Even as I write this post, I feel like I’m walking into a minefield. If I say protestors shouldn’t use the McDonald’s hashtag to further their own agenda, it will appear that I don’t believe in what they’re saying. If I come down on the side of free speech, that will likely upset someone else who is reading this post.
Now imagine you’re Coca-Cola’s social media brand manager and you’ve got to explain to the board why customers are calling for a boycott. Sadly, it’s not the manager’s fault. There’s simply no way to promote your association with an international event this size without tripping over a few wires. The only way a major brand could avoid controversy is to ignore the Olympics completely. Now imagine how that would play out in the press. The Olympics without McDonalds? The simple act of NOT advertising would be seen as an even bigger statement.
I read a great quote over on Mashable from David Srere, co-CEO of strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale;
“There’s a real downside to lobbing your hat into the conversation if you don’t have anything relevant to say or the credibility to say it. Silence can be golden.”
Where we are now, silence actually means business as usual. Post your branded good wishes for the athletes and cheer along with the rest of the world. If something goes wrong, then it would be best to put your campaign on hold rather than appear heartless or clueless.
For some marketing teams, this is going to be a very stressful couple of weeks.