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Winning the Debate: 5 Tips for Talking About Current Events on Social Media

By Snap Agency November 7, 2016

Whether you’re a small business or a big national brand, you have to be on social—but what do you do once you’re there?

A fruitful way to engage consumers on social is talking with them about current events. Current events are a shared experience that you and your consumers can easily talk about, but engaging with current events is hard, partly because individuals express themselves differently than brands. As a business, you want to be inclusive, not alienating, but you still want to relate with consumers and build genuine relationships with them. These relationships support leads that drive sales, even if they don’t always feel that way.

Because the 2016 Presidential Debates are the most tweeted about in Twitter history, there are plenty of examples of brands using Twitter to connect with consumers in relation to this topical issue. Using two similar debate-centered promos with different outcomes, here are five tips on how to effectively use social media to engage with current events and consumers.


Don’t Ignore Current Conversations

Bisquick’s “Pancakes vs. Waffles” debate night promotion on Twitter asked followers to tweet questions about pancakes and waffles throughout the night. This campaign got slack for being tone-deaf and ignoring the importance of paying attention to the real candidates and critical issues on stage. Bisquick essentially created a distraction, asking people on Twitter to engage with their content while—or instead of—watching the debate.

Instead of tapping into existing conversations about the debates, Bisquick ignored those altogether and created their own. Nothing in the debate had to with pancakes, waffles or even breakfast, so their attempt to create a nonsensical debate about the food matter came out of nowhere, thus it had nowhere to land.


Use Real Insights

On the other hand, Excedrin Pain Relief used the hashtag #debateheadache to create conversation around the final presidential debate. Using statistics from a nationally representative survey, they highlighted the relationship between electoral politics and headaches. They effectively found an inclusive point of commonality with consumers—frustration with the debates themselves.

Excedrin paid attention to popular sentiment about the 2016 debates: “Yeah, they’re important, but watching them sucks.” Plus, because people gathered around Twitter to discuss and complain, that’s where Excedrin joined the conversation. Paying attention as a brand means that instead of starting a new point of conversation altogether, it will put data from consumers first and put it right where consumers will be.


Don’t Make It About You

Speaking of who’s first, Bisquick’s promo also failed because they made it about themselves, not about how their product has anything to do with the election. At Snap, we recommend dividing your social content into three sections with carefully measured rules—the default being equal thirds.

        • ⅓ of your social content promotes your business, converts readers and generates profit.
        • ⅓ of your social content should share ideas and stories from leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
        • ⅓ of your social content should be based on personal interactions and build your personal brand.

This debate promo should fall into the last third because it’s designed to drive consumer interaction and build brand personality in relation to the election. But in execution, “Pancakes vs. Waffles” is actually really product-focused. There’s nothing wrong with sales-generating product-focused posts, but they should never be the entirety of your social content, especially when they are distracting from the issue you’re trying to piggyback. Whenever your topical content still sounds like “Buy! Buy! Buy!” you’re still thinking too much about making sales rather than building relationships.


Engage Thoughtfully

Current events are tricky because they can be divisive and the details are always developing. Social media can build relationships but making negative ones is just as easy as making positive ones. Good messaging has to toe the line—say something substantial, but avoid saying something bad, offensive or just wrong (both factually and morally).

Electoral politics are incredibly sensitive, especially in this election. Excedrin found success being carefully nonpartisan while still asserting a position. Because what they were saying was based on data, they were able to make a point, contribute thoughtfully and remain inclusive without being a distraction from the matter at hand. They didn’t choose a side because, instead, they found a common enemy.


Offer Real Solutions

Not only did Excedrin find and rally around a common enemy, but their solution was tied to their brand. Instead of pointing out a problem and walking away, like Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign has been accused of doing, Excedrin showcased its ability to create positive change in its customers’ lives. Because they followed tips 1–4 so well, consumers are more likely to respond to Excedrin’s solution—and not as a sales pitch, but as a friend offering help.


Marketing pessimists will tell you that when brands get into big conversations, they might get more brand awareness, maybe a news story, but nothing resulting in sales or conversions. Even if they’re right, brand awareness and developing relationships are still a big deal for smaller businesses and brands. Tapping into current events and conversations puts your content and your brand right next to the headlines. And who knows, maybe you’ll make some for yourself.