Last night's news that Carrie Fisher's death has now been followed by that of her mother, Tinseltown screen legend Debbie Reynolds, has probably only rubbed salt in the wound inflicted on Cinnabon's brand after their social media team posted an ill-received tweet following Fisher's death two days ago. As we reported, upon Fisher's death the chain tweeted a tongue-in-cheek reference to the actress' trademark, side-of-head hair buns from her role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars. Though Cinnabon's social media managers have said they meant no disrespect, the chatter online worldwide was harshly critical and probably also brand-injuring. In fact, Cinnabon's media relations team responded to a request for comment from QSRweb.com by again underlining the brand's original apology for the poorly received tweet.
"We want to provide clarification on our controversial tweet," Cinnabon spokesperson Ashley Aberbach stated in an email to QSRweb.com. "We have great appreciation for the life and career of Carrie Fisher. Our intention was to pay respect through an image we created in her honor for Star Wars Day 2016. We are sorry our tweet may have appeared disrespectful to some and we took it down."
Further, Cinnabon Global Marketing Vice President Jill Thomas, added some additional perspective this morning that seems to hint at the "piling on" of criticism the brand has gotten online where commenters are often very quick to condemn brand's the public believes have violated an undefined sense of right and wrong.
"Social media moves quickly and thrives on authentic interactions — and different viewpoints are inevitable," Thomas said in a statement released to QSRweb.com about the incident and Cinnabon's overall brand protocols related to social media. "Our social communities mean the world to us and when differences occur, our first focus is on our brand, its personality and values."
That, in some respects, is reflective of the feedback we got from marketing professionals and leadership at other brands when asked about their take on identifying that fine line between great social media engagement and marketing, and all those well-intended but poorly received comments and jokes that end up burning brands and their connections to customers. Here's some of the conversation with marketing and communication professionals, Brad Ritter and Nick Powills, as well as marketing leadership from other QSR brands, A&W and Philly Pretzel Factory.
Q: How do you put controls on social media posts for a restaurant brand, or do you?
A: No Limit Agency Founder and CEO Nick Powills: "It's really challenging to put controls in place when you want to be social. Clearly, the intention wasn't for Cinnabon to cause harm — someone thought it was simply being creative. If you want to foster a creative culture, it's hard to put parameters on when to be funny and when not to be. In a world where seconds can be the difference between winning or losing, relying on common sense in social media is probably the best option. When dealing with death or disasters, it's probably safer to not post at all versus walking the line of creativity."
A: Brad Ritter, whose agency, Ritter Communications, works with numerous brands across the restaurant spectrum, emphasized restraint: "Unlike any other marketing channel, social media allow brands to engage with consumers in real time. Unfortunately, many start posting because they can, without stopping to consider whether they should. Marketers are driven by metrics, making it very tempting to jump into high profile conversations that are trending on social media with the goal of generating retweets, Facebook likes and viral video views.
"Before jumping online, you need to ask: Do we have a legitimate and logical reason to be part of the conversation? Do we have something worthwhile to say? A story to tell? If not, you are likely to be ignored, or worse, loudly criticized for being opportunistic and crassly commercial. When in doubt, stay out. Remember, brand awareness has a downside: The bigger the brand, the greater potential for controversy."
Q: What does your brand do to put controls on social media posts?
A: A&W Restaurants Marketing Director Sarah Blasisaid their brand has purposely kept social media in-house, rather than contracting through an outside firm, just to heighten control of the message and ensure its is consistent with the brand's voice.
"If there is anything questionable about an intended post, it goes through at least one level of approval. We've seen so many brands with 'tweet fails,' we know the risk. We know we're only one bad tweet away from being on Mashable's 'Worst Tweets of the Year' list.
"In a reactive situation like this, unless the celebrity is directly tied to us — spokesperson or face of the brand in some way — our rule of thumb is to stay away from the topic. We like to keep authenticity in mind when we think of our audience to ask ourselves 'why would the brand need to be involved in this conversation?'
"Twitter is often very exciting because you can throw things against the wall to see what sticks, what becomes viral. You have to consider how this would appeal to new fans without alienating your existing fans. And in reactive situations like this you must treat each tweet on a case-by-case basis. You don't know how the Twitter-sphere will react to your content so you have to measure every response on a scale of risk. Ask yourself if there's the possibility that this will offend someone. We stick to lighter, happier events, ones that are more authentic for us to insert ourselves into."
Q: If the worst happens and a post is ill-received, how and when does a brand best respond?
A: Philly Pretzel Factory Marketing Manager Adam Terranova:"I think in this case, you have to own your mistake and put out an apology. You need to be sensitive to how people may react to your post."
A: A&W Restaurants Marketing Director Sarah Blasi: "Very simply, you must own up to it, understand why people might be upset, and apologize. Even if the intention was good and not to offend, if it does offend, it is important to acknowledge this. Be authentic and own up to the mistake. The news cycle will eventually move on."
A: Rittercautioned also acting too quickly in apologizing, and thus making the whole matter worse. "If a post does go awry, avoid over-reacting and responding immediately, unless it is clear that a response is needed. Monitor the conversation very carefully, as the problem may fade as quickly and in some cases, fans of your brand may challenge critics for you. If it escalates, apologize and explain steps you are taking to avoid a repeat occurrence."
Everyone acknowledged that part of the problem stems from the overall inexperience of many of those chosen to man a brand's social media ship. Often, as No Limit Agency's Powills put it, "the lesser experienced (individuals) in the work world are typically the most experienced with social media."
"The reality is everyone does stupid things sometimes. Owning up, taking responsibility and not doing it again is the best practice. This too shall pass."
Photo source: iStock