February 8, 2016

Red Lobster, Beyoncé and the Speed of Real-Time Social Media

Source: Twitter / @redlobster Source: Twitter / @redlobster


The weekend’s biggest social media story had little to do with the Super Bowl.

Not long before joining Coldplay in the halftime show, Beyoncé dropped a new song and video called “Formation,” which mentioned how she rewards her man with Red Lobster after he…well, have a listen for yourself:

The song dropped Saturday afternoon, at which point all eyes turned to Red Lobster. Surely it had to respond. Companies shell out thousands for D-list Vine stars to endorse their products; Red Lobster got an A-lister for free. How would it double-down and make the most of it?

For too long, the answer was null. The Internet pounced in real-time, making its own jokes and GIFs about the song. That’s how Twitter works. But the whole time, Red Lobster stayed dark.

Then, in the wee hours of Saturday night, when the rest of the world was out drinking or watching Thunder-Warriors or the GOP Debate, Red Lobster finally entered the conversation. Notice the timestamp:

The tweet itself is fine. It won’t go down as awesome, but it punned “Bey” with “Bay” and used the right tone without alluding to sex. It’s a tweet the director of every internal department could sign off on.

But based upon the timestamp, it’s a tweet the director of every internal department did sign off on — and that’s the problem. Real-time content is more than just responding to something topical; it’s responding to something topical quickly. Red Lobster’s tweet didn’t do that.

That’s why you got these responses from popular writers…

…and these replies that drove the point home:

For Red Lobster, this was less of a “fail” and more of a missed opportunity. What happened says less about its social team than the challenge of social marketing in general. It’s hard to square the importance of this tweet with the timeframe its development requires.

How can social marketers combat this? The best thing they can do is plan ahead. Develop crisis plans and contingencies for unexpected situations. Maybe even run a couple fire drills.

In the moment, it’s important to set hard deadlines. If Beyoncé endorses your product at 10 am, agree to publish no later than noon. That will get the ball rolling and bypass normal red-tape communication.

UPDATE – Tuesday, February 9

The process above sounds hard, but it’s possible. Airbnb proved that on Monday, when Beyoncé, of all people, endorsed its service on Facebook. Fresh off her time at the Super Bowl, she posted a photo from an Airbnb rental and thanked the company for a Super weekend.

The photo came at 11:47 a.m. Airbnb replied in 24 minutes. In less time than it takes to deliver pizza, Airbnb wrote a fun piece of copy. It published its post in real-time and returned Beyoncé’s serve with authority.

“I told my team we had a 5-minute window until [the post] became irrelevant,” Airbnb’s Global Head of Social Media and Content, Eric Toda, told Likeable.

That’s how you wring the most from a good situation.


Moving fast on social is scary, but in cases such as this, it’s also mandatory. The response is high-visibility and goes a long way in defining your brand voice, but you can’t parse real-time content as if it’s a print ad.

Sometimes you just have to trust your social team and let them jump in as the network demands.

The medium, in this case, is the message.

Tags: Best Practices, Real-Time, Strategy, Twitter

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