When marketing becomes meme

At Pilot, we reject the adage that all publicity is good publicity. No one wants to be made fun of, and having an attempt at social media marketing turn into a joke can undermine your brand and distract from your message.

This week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted a picture of himself on the phone with the words “I’ve been speaking to @BarackObama about the situation in Ukraine. We are united in condemnation of Russia’s actions.”

Professional and amateur comedians soon piled on, tweeting pics of themselves holding things to their ear, and joking that they were also on the line.

So why did this tweet go so wrong?

The first problem is that it isn’t authentic. Even if he’s really on the phone with Obama at that moment, should anyone be snapping photos of such a serious conversation? It’s important for leaders to use social media to give people behind-the-scenes access, but only at appropriate times. Obama wouldn’t tweet, “Hey folks, got my finger on the button here!” And Cameron shouldn’t have tweeted this.

Cameron’s tweet was also manipulative, an online humble brag about his personal importance. Essentially, he lobbed up a softball, and people started swinging.

So, if you’re going to use social media to show your followers something about you or your brand, make sure it isn’t contrived. Tweets and photographs should support your narrative without ramming it down people’s throats. Or, in this case, holding it right up to their ear.