Four questions to stop you 'Walkers-ing' into a UGC nightmare

Seeing Gary Lineker jovially greeting images of Josef Fritzl, Jimmy Savile and Fred West was probably enough to make Walkers' social media team pepper their computer screens with hastily ejected remnants of Mediterranean Lightly Salted 100 per cent Olive Oil potato chips.

Mat Sears: 'Always ask the question: how are people going to sabotage this?'
Mat Sears: 'Always ask the question: how are people going to sabotage this?'

That it took so long (in social, an hour counts for about a week) to be addressed allowed the negative imagery to spread across Twitter and into mainstream news.

Perhaps it was a technical issue that let these images through. Perhaps it was human error. Whatever the case, this light-hearted social campaign turned into a PR nightmare.

It's enough to put you off these promotions altogether.

Another example that went less than smoothly, and also made its way into mainstream consciousness, was the invitation to broadcast messages of support to the England cricket team in Mumbai last year. Again, it was the usual list of undesirables that were fast bowled into the promotion.

The genesis of these campaigns is usually a fairly simple conversation.

"How do you get engagement and make this super personal?"

"I know, let's invite the good people of Twitter (or Facebook) to send in pictures of themselves and we'll stick them next to a celebrity. It's low barrier-to-entry, low cost, and easily shareable."

The key with getting this kind of activity right is repeating the question: "How are people going to sabotage this?" Because in the world of social media, they will absolutely try - we know from experience after launching a similar campaign for the BAFTAs, where we filtered out several would-be saboteurs.

Companies #like social promotions because they offer incredible uplift on reach, can deliver great results, and can be replicated in further channels. But this is like flooring the accelerator on your family saloon: the faster you go the less control you have over the steering, and the more likely it is you’ll end up in the verge.

This seat-of-your-pants aspect is a fact of life in this arena. You have to enter into it with the knowledge that, whether because of genuine dislike or simply for #banter, there are plenty of people out there who will try and take it in a totally different direction.

The key is making sure your seatbelt is on and your airbags are fully operational before flooring said accelerator. The four key questions are:

  • How are you going to pre-moderate customer entries (taking into account the time it might take to do so)?
  • Is there an efficient way of post-moderating once they go live?
  • Also, and this is key: can you test this process to try and break it yourself?
  • Finally, what is your response when it does go wrong?

It is important you have this rapid response in place before you go live. There’s no doubt a picture of Jimmy Savile is going to garner your brand attention and possibly put your celebrity spokesperson in a tricky situation.

As we hopefully all know by now, and as this case shows once again, not all publicity is good publicity.

Mat Sears is director of communications and sponsorship at EE

Read next: Facebook, Google and tackling the problem of destructive content

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