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Do you remember when IHOP tweeted this kind of awkward mistake?

Big gasps, followed by a “whoa”, could be heard all around the world.

What about when Kenneth Cole had this “Uh-oh” moment?

And well, since we’re already on the topic, we can’t forget what Urban Outfitters did during Hurricane Sandy. Let’s face it. We all raised our eyebrows when we saw that tweet go out.

Brands of varying shapes and sizes have been making mistakes, both big and small, on social media for as long as social media has been around. Usually, these blunders range from inappropriate tweets about national holidays all the way to cracking a joke that just wasn’t funny. Our immediate response when reading these undeniably awkward and uncomfortable social posts is usually a “How did someone think this was OK to share?!” followed by “Someone’s gonna get firrreeddd…”

Everyone wants to be funny. Unfortunately, not everyone can be funny. It can be even more difficult for brands. Cracking a joke or sharing a pun is their way of showcasing a bit of their “personality.”

Insensitive

But when these jokes become big “uh-ohs”, we can’t help but sit back and ask “Are these mistakes avoidable?” When is it okay for a brand to be funny on social media? Are there certain brands that can be funny while others should just avoid it altogether?

Exactly where is the balance, and how should a brand keep themselves from crossing the line and entering the year’s Hall of Fame of Social Media Mistakes? I’ve come up with three important ways brands find that balance, followed by a real-life example from our very own Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Brands need to know who they are.

In order for a brand to be seen as credible, they need to be aware of what their personality is and how they want to be viewed on social. Brands need to nail down a tone of voice that speaks to who they are. Do you crack jokes, deploy irony or strictly get to business? The basis of any good social strategy begins with a blueprint of your voice.

Be authentic.

Audiences are extremely perceptive and can catch on quickly to brands that are trying too hard to be something they’re not. It can be especially difficult for large corporations to create an honest personality for themselves on social when there’s a large team managing social behind a computer screen in an office building. But this is exactly why it’s important that a brand knows who they are (refer to my first point). It allows them to ensure that everyone on their team is on the same page and speaking from the same perspective.

Empathy, baby.

All brands have varying audiences of all shapes and sizes, so it’s important that a brand knows and understands their audience’s personalities, the ins and outs of their psyche and what they’re truly looking for from the brand. Plainly put: Brands need to place themselves inside their audience’s shoes to have a better understanding of how to communicate.

There are a number of brands doing this correctly. Taco Bell  and Denny’s know exactly who they are both on and off social media. They understand their audiences (primarily internet-savvy young adults, with a possible stoner subsection?) without a doubt, and cater their comedic social interactions to fit accordingly.

However, not all voices can do this all the time, or ever. It’s not who they are. Healthcare or government organizations must choose appropriate instances to showcase their personality simply because doing it all day dramatically deviates from a predetermined voice.

Take the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). The PPA is an organization that is aware of who they are and who their audience is. This doesn’t mean that when the right opportunity comes along, they can’t have a little fun either. Take the below example, for instance.

On March 28, the PPA received the tweet below, asking what sort of infraction would cause this citizen to receive a baguette on their car’s windshield?

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Sensing an opportunity to have a bit of fun on social, the PPA responded with, you guessed it, some good ol’ dad humor.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. These tweets may make you a little queasy with just how cheesy they are, but that’s exactly what makes this Twitter exchange so exciting and, quite frankly, on the receiving end of a gold star. The PPA saw an opportunity to humanize the organization and remind customers that dad can have fun too.

There was a chance that this exchange could have backfired and gone in an entirely different direction than the PPA intended. However, that’s where my three points above come into action. The PPA understood they definitely shouldn’t be cracking jokes with every tweet and Facebook post. It’s not who they are.

But are they allowed to poke a little fun with their audience sometimes? Absolutely. Everyone can, but only when it’s authentic, appropriate and cringe-worthy in the best way possible.

About the Author

Shivani Desai

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