You can’t control the internet. So stop trying and learn to work with it instead!

Ah, the internet. That place where we go to shop, pay bills, do work, research, connect with friends, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Here’s the thing about the web: it’s everything and everywhere. And when something is that ubiquitous in all aspect of life, you can’t expect to have full control. For better or worse, having an online presence comes with a level of unpredictability. And for brands and companies, if you want to get the benefits of having the unbelievably wide access the web provides you have to be prepared for the unexpected.

Brands aren’t in control of the narrative anymore

In 2020, we saw lots of wild examples of what can happen when a brand gets swept up in online cultural moments they never saw coming. Who would have expected the Peloton girl saga to come full circle once we were all trapped at home for most of the year? And what of the case of the TikTok paint mixing account that captured the internet and surely gave the Sherwin William’s PR team a headache for weeks? Or the latest wave of memes and content around Twisted Tea?

All of these examples and many, many more show that no matter how much prep and planning your organization has done, you can’t account for everything online. The solution? Stop trying!

Learn to lean into the chaos

Stick with me here. I’m not saying you should abandon all plans and let the internet do what it will. Having a social media crisis plan and a crisis communications plan is critical, especially when something unexpected comes up online. BUT sometimes your plan needs to involve throwing out the playbook.

Go back to our favorite paint mixer from just a few months ago; Sherwin Williams had a golden opportunity dropped into their laps. Tony Piloseno had millions of people regularly watching his paint mixing content on TikTok. He took an objectively dull product (paint) and made it fun, soothing, and highly entertaining. He was also aware of the potential his channel offered and loyal enough to his company to approach them with a plan to use TikTok for the company’s benefit, not just his own. If Sherwin Williams had been willing to go outside the box a bit, they could have a dedicated following of people learning to love paint and color mixing being fed a steady stream of their products. Instead, they dropped Piloseno and upstart paint company Florida Paints hired him, which means they now benefit from the exposure both Piloseno’s account already had plus the added press the whole controversy created.

Bottom Line

In our increasingly online world, brands can’t expect to manufacture a viral moment anymore. Viral moments happen when you least expect it, for better or worse, and cannot be controlled through a perfectly crafted hashtag or campaign. Having a social media and crisis communications plan that includes flexibility in these viral moments is crucial and the only way that brands can hope to make the most of these moments.

So make sure your 2021 plan is set up to expect the unexpected, or work with the right communications professionals who know how to make these wild opportunities help and not hurt your brand.

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