Can your social brand pass the TEA test?

You want to take your brand to social media? Yes, it’s free media. But it can also be a very rough neighbourhood (just ask Kenneth Cole).

To survive it, you don’t just need a social strategy; you need social skills. In a complete turnaround from traditional branding, plunging in to social networks means giving up a fair amount of control over your image. But if your brand can be transparent, empathetic and altruistic (TEA), then social media can work for you.


Your brand has no secrets in the online world. Just ask Dove, whose “Campaign for Real Beauty” takes hits from accusations of heavy Photoshop work, casting calls for “real” models with “FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!” and “Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic” and possibly racist advertising and products.

Expect your closet skeletons not only to be found, but paraded up and down the modern Main Streets of facebook and Twitter. Actually, they’ll be found whether you engage in social branding or not, but if you’re interactive online that means dealing with them. In other words, take a hard look at your weak points and have a good explanation ready.

Which brings us too…


All your customers/clients/followers want is to be cared about. On social media, everyone feels important. If you don’t feed that need, they will get it somewhere else.

This doesn’t mean you should be manipulative. Quite the opposite. You just have to give a shit about what your followers say, think and believe.

The Kenneth Cole example linked earlier is a classic example of lack of empathy hurting a social brand. At the height of the Egyptian uprisings, when people were staking their lives on a desperate bid for democracy and respect, the Twit who managed their feeds Tweeted an ignorant joke about their latest sale.

The response was swift and damning.

This shouldn’t scare brands away from having a sense of fun and spontaneity, however. In the midst of tense US debt negotiations, the White House Twitterfeed lightened the tone of a public Q&A by “Rick Rolling” a commenter.

This was actually a good move by the WH, because it showed empathy for the frustration of its two million followers, and all Americans who are sick of the partisan tug-of-war. They really needed that Rick Astley break.

And that leads to…


People are aware that private industry’s primary objective is to make money. But they also expect companies to act as ethical and caring corporate citizens.

Altruism can right many wrongs. Dove, for example, manages to ride out the little storms of embarrassment by staying the course as champions of positive body image. The investment they made in altruistic branding means that the scandals die our while Dove’s “Evolution” viral video continues to rack up millions of views.

The altruism has to feel authentic, however, or it can totally backfire. One of the worst major brands, when it comes to corporate social responsibility failure, is KFC. They keep making the most awkward connections with causes, such as having its carcinogenic fried chicken going “pink” for breast cancer (let’s hope the chicken wasn’t actually pink inside!) and using juvenile diabetes to sell “mega jugs” of Pepsi.

If you’re going to put your brand on a cause, it’s best to make sure that your product or company is not actually part of the problem. (See: Greenwashing and Pinkwashing)

A corporate commitment to altruism is of course expected to be self-serving, but it should also be relevant, authentic and credible.

So, is it TEA time yet?

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