Going Viral Might Destroy Your Company

One thing our diverse list of clients has in common is the desire to have something go “viral.” As marketers, this phrase can warrant two completely different responses. For most companies, going viral will be a catalyst to a massive uptick in sales and an increase in public attention, which would be awesome. But for one company, it may have destroyed their brand before it even began.

Last week, you probably saw an image of an unidentifiable woman by a pool in a red one piece swimsuit. Users who shared the post and tagged the brand Sunny Co. Clothing in the following 24 hours were told they would get the $65 Pamela Sunny Suit bathing suit for free, only paying shipping and handling. What felt like a surefire way to gain some social following, sell some swimsuits and possibly build brand ambassadors was already backfiring.

Sunny Co. quickly realized that the only stipulation in the rules for users to be in the continental U.S. was not going to cover it. Two hours later the company added a post reserving the right to limit the number of entries. But it was too late. By now they already had tens of thousands of entries and 338K fans on Instagram. Whoops.

To make matters worse, Instagram and Twitter users complained about the red bathing suit posts cluttering their personal news feed and began an anti-Sunny Co. movement. To continue to pile on, the promotional code was not working and customers were being charged full price for the swimsuit. Phew. What a mess. But do you think it stopped there? Of course not.

Sunny Co. Clothing decided to do the opposite of what we tell our clients to do and went into scared turtle mode and shut down. It removed the post from its social media channels and stopped responding to angry customers’ requests for help. Because ignoring a problem absolutely makes it go away, right?

To recap: The brand “gave” away all their inventory of the Pamela swimsuit, angered potential customers by not processing the orders correctly, created heavy delays in shipping and ignored customers when they were experiencing problems. All of this because the initial post did not include a stipulation about limiting the number of entries.

So what can we learn? A lot, but here are some fast tips.

  • Determine the guidelines of your promotion way in advance. Proactively consider all potential hiccups and have a plan of action in place. When it’s time to execute, always double and triple check your posts, especially if you are giving something away. Monitor post interactions for any issues and address swiftly.
  • If you realize you have messed up, own it as quickly as possible. After all, self-awareness is the first step to recovery. Don’t run and hide.
  • Strongly consider what you can do for your customers to make up for your mistake.

Hey, there some silver linings around these things. Some brands are smart and take advantage of the trend. One brand’s misstep is another brand’s summer content calendar.