Recently, Facebook had to apologise for occasional flurries of colourful balloons going up when Indonesians posted about the tragic earthquake on the island of Lombok.
This Facebook feature is extended worldwide and is triggered when the word “congratulations” is posted in its different linguistic variations. It is a delightful idea that enhances posts celebrating birthdays, weddings and other festive events.
So what went wrong in this case?
Know who you are speaking to
A BBC tech online report “Lombok quake: Facebook regrets earthquake balloons” highlighted the social network’s festive balloon feature misfiring drastically during the aftermath of the Indonesian disaster. It turns out that the Indonesian word for “congratulations” also means “unhurt,” depending on the context in which it is used. So hypothetically if someone posted “I hope our family is unhurt” then the balloon feature would be launched.
Facebook is a global presence and the scale of its operations across numerous languages, populations and demographics mean that mistakes will be made. With automated functions like the festive balloons, word triggers may not be sophisticated enough to identify ambiguities. Numerous languages have words with the same spelling but meaning different things in different cases and it is important to discriminate between them.
English is no exception. The engVid online education resource lists 35 instances where words change meanings depending on the syllable being stressed e.g. OB-ject (a thing) and ob-JECT (to complain). The difference is clear in speech, but with the written word problems can occur unless the text being used is contextualised accurately.
Earning genuine engagement
Where trust has been gained in a target audience, mistakes will be accepted for what they are. Whatever its shortcomings in the use of data and other recent issues as revealed in the media, no one would seriously accuse Facebook of deliberately wishing to cause offence or distress in the case of the Indonesian earthquake disaster.
However, when mistakes have been made which are less easy to explain away, brands can rapidly find themselves under fire. Thoughtless use of words, ill-chosen images or misunderstood actions can lead to an eruption of public complaint and negative reviews. We recently covered “The Unforgiving Side of Social Media” in an article on our website, and suggested some strategies for businesses to manage issues effectively if they occur.
There are numerous tools for generating automated content on social media and some are more useful than others. However, there is a danger in treating network users like a commodity. Social media marketing requires a high level of genuine personal engagement and content quality, which in turn requires time, effort and knowledge of the targeted channels and their audiences to undertake effectively. However, the rewards of trust and brand loyalty can be earned that way. People will gain the confidence of knowing there is someone out there that is on their side and who can, with honesty, click the “I am not a robot” button.
If you would like to discuss implementing social media marketing strategies for genuine personal engagement with audiences targeted by your business, please contact BBI Brandboost at any time.