By Colin Jowell

Viral? Tick!

Cause-related? Tick!

Co-creation? Tick!

What could possibly go wrong?

The respective marketing folk at Woolworths and their agency can tell you this week, after their Anzac promotion was hijacked leaving both companies to pick up the pieces. My sympathy actually lies with the agency concerned. Woolies will survive this, while their agency’s fate is far more questionable. While I like to think my better judgment would save the day, having been in many a room where such concepts were proposed I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve dodged a… oh well, I’d better stop there.

It’s easy to be a vulture picking over the carcass of what is an unquestionable marketing blunder - but the truth is social media and co-creation campaigns fail every single day. Most of them, however, fly under the radar - so transparently try-hard that they are ignored. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to start a social media campaign, or tap into a socially trending cause, is akin to running into a field during a storm carrying a pole and hoping to be hit by lightning. It can happen, but you have to be fast. And this week’s events serve as stark reminder that while lightning is electrifying, it can also kill.

That companies need a social media management strategy is unquestionable - the ability to see, and deal with the very public issues and complaints customers can now raise is invaluable. Having a shrewd content strategy to keep your audience entertained is also a good idea, so long as you accept that the percentage of people seeing your posts is now in the single digits (unless of course, you pay to reach “your” community. Though I dare say if television had a “skip through” rate that was as well recognized as a “click through” rate, we might make different decisions!).

The issue isn’t just that it’s old, established companies that get crucified on social. Uber tarnished its local record after the Sydney siege, and their subsequent promotion to deliver kittens got its fair share of social scorn.

What this highlights again, is that unless your product or service has a real reason to align to a cause, you’re best to steer well clear of it. 

So the next time you’re pitched some crazy, co-created, viral idea, ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?”. And if you can’t deal with the answer to that, maybe you’d be better off investing in some better customer service, product improvement or a good old-fashioned sale instead.