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  • Writer's picturePetersensPR

Social media campaigns and the importance of 'reading the room'

In our connected world, businesses are navigating a social media landscape in which their every move is scrutinised. A poorly considered post can do some serious damage to a business’s reputation, and a negative emotional response from an audience can take a long time to fix.

In this blog, we take a look at some of the potential pitfalls that could lead to a tone-deaf PR campaign.

Cause marketing

Cause marketing can be a great way for a company to demonstrate social responsibility. This is becoming increasingly essential in today’s climate, with Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) favouring brands that actively engage with social and environmental issues. In fact, 40% of Gen Z are likely to boycott brands that don’t appear to align with their values.

Most recently, we saw companies celebrating International Women’s Day (8th March), with posts praising the work of female employees and promoting gender equality. However, there have been instances where businesses have wildly missed the mark.

In 2021, Burger King UK paid tribute to the day by tweeting, ‘Women belong in the kitchen’. The tweet was supposedly intended to draw attention to the gender pay gap in the food service industry, with follow-up tweets promoting a cooking scholarship for female staff. Unsurprisingly, the joke fell flat – a reminder that times are changing, and sexist stereotypes will not advance the cause you wish to advocate for. With misogyny, racism, and inequality being taken much more seriously than ever before, an intentionally controversial campaign is much harder to land.


Similar to cause marketing, hopping on a popular trend or ‘trendjacking’ can enable a PR campaign to reach a wider audience. But keeping up with social media’s lightning speed can often result in a misinterpretation of context. Back in 2014, US pizza brand DiGiorno jumped on the popular Twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote their pizza. What they failed to realise was that the hashtag was being used for people to hold a conversation about domestic violence. Taking note of this, a bit of research before hitting ‘post’ goes a long way.

Jumping on a trend may seem like an easy ticket to boosting engagement, but companies should prioritise relevance over reach, and avoid inserting themselves into conversations they don’t belong. Staying on top of internet culture and reading the social media room is crucial.

Ill-advised timing

Now, as we move into more economically challenging times, it’s important for companies to align with the mood of the nation. We’ve seen frequent poorly timed content, including McDonald’s failed #TrickorEat campaign in October 2022, an ill-advised pun during a cost-of-living crisis where Brits are facing the choice of heating or eating.

OVO Energy was also subjected to the full fury of social media after it sent out a newsletter to customers featuring tips on how to stay warm in winter without turning the heating up. This included energy-saving gems such as ‘cuddle your pets’ and ‘do star jumps’- a little tone deaf considering the circumstances.

It’s more crucial than ever for businesses to be in tune with the cultural zeitgeist and cultivate customer empathy. This can involve consulting with diverse voices, doing research, and being open to feedback and criticism. Most importantly, it involves ‘reading the room’ to ensure they avoid the kind of mistakes we’ve highlighted above.

If your business needs help navigating the complicated social media landscape, get in touch. Our award-winning social media team can help you chart a course to success.

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