2015: The Year in Social Media Disasters

By Katie Meyer

Schadenfreude: A feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people

Socialhadenfreude: A feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the social media disasters of other brands

2015 was a very delicious year for social media scandals. Nothing makes a marketing manager feel smugly superior like watching big brands fail hard, and publicly, online.

What were the biggest social media fails of 2015? How did brands recover from the disasters? Most importantly, which blunders were the most entertaining?

Blackberry’s Twitter for iPhone

When you think of social media, you might not think of Blackberry, partly because of a gaffe earlier this year. The tech giant was slow to integrate touch screens and cameras, putting itself behind other mobile devices in ease of use for Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And what’s the point of a smartphone if you can’t use it to talk to your friends?

Even RIM employees find tweeting with a Blackberry next to impossible. Or, that’s the message the company very publicly sent when they tweeted about their integration with Twitter… using an iPhone. Whoops.

The initial tweet went viral and before Blackberry could take it down (Twitter is so hard to use on a Blackberry); the Verge grabbed the above screencap. Social media mistakes live forever: Blackberry couldn’t undo its iPhone tweet.

The brand may have realized that there was no recovering from the slip up. @Blackberry deleted the message and tried to bury it under a deluge of new updates. There was no apology.

The gaffe seemed like a confession of Blackberry’s outdatedness: an admission, from the inside, that the company couldn’t keep up. Favourites, retweets, replies, and mentions for the brand dipped on Twitter as users distanced themselves from the brand that confirmed the worst forecasts for its own future.

Despite some signs of recovery in the fall of 2015, as shown in the Crowdbabble visualization above, engagement is down overall from the year prior.

Clorox’s Emoji Racism

Terrible things happen when brands embroil themselves American racial tensions, whether inadvertently or on purpose. When Apple released a more diverse set of emoji on April 8, Clorox responded with a tweet interpreted as a call for emoji genocide.

But wait! That’s not what Clorox meant! As we’ve said before, intent on social media is irrelevant. If a message’s delivery is perceived as insensitive and ignorant, the brand is perceived as insensitive and ignorant.

After realizing that the attempt at humour failed miserably, the grovelling began.

Was it enough? As shown in the Crowdbabble data visualization below, after the offending tweet went viral in April, the brand experienced little to no engagement. As with Blackberry, when the misstep is more viral than any other posts, engagement suffers in the long term.

Clorox was pummelled on Twitter and across the web for its insensitivity. Twitter users have been reluctant to engage with Clorox and its follower growth has slowed as a result. Tweeting infrequently, for 2015 @Clorox averaged an abysmal 38.5 likes, retweets, or mentions per day. At just 19.5 average engagements per tweet in 2015, the brand has a 0% engagement rate for its 102,000 follower base on Twitter.

Bic’s Think Like a Man

International Women’s Day. A time to celebrate women, or a time to sell stuff? Bic chose to celebrate women by sharing an inspirational quote on its South Africa Facebook page. If only that quote were actually inspirational.

After the pens for women debacle, the brand was on thin ice with the girl/lady sex. Telling women to look like girls and think like men (the best of both worlds?) did not go over well.

Apologizing quickly and sincerely is a good strategy, but it had one major pitfall for Bic: users were still angry. Overall, stories created per post declined for the brand’s Facebook page as women turned away from the brand.

Bic South Africa also posted less as their stories created continued to dwindle. Who would want their friends to catch them liking Bic, which branded itself as outdated and sexist with the women’s day post?

Houston Rockets’ Dead Horse

Heckling the fans of an opposing team is pretty common in the stadium, but it doesn’t play as well on Twitter. During a heated game, the Houston Rockets tweeted a horse emoji being shot at the Dallas Mavericks (mascot: horse). As demonstrated by Clorox fiasco, people take emoji jokes very seriously.

Tweets criticizing the emoji threat poured in, forcing the team’s social media team to apologize.

The threat gave the Dallas Mavericks the opportunity to take the high road when they tweeted back, making the Rockets look desperate and immature. How did Houston Rockets followers react on Twitter?

Some deemed the Rockets’ apology unnecessary — the joke didn’t touch on any hot button issues or target specific groups — but its sincerity, apparently, was appreciated. After April 29, engagement soared. May was a great month, but the brand shifted strategies in June when it ousted the manager responsible for the dead horse tweet. Favourites, retweets, replies, and mentions flatlined.

Starbucks’ Race Together

In March 2015, Starbucks decided to jump into the debate on race in the US. It attached Race Together stickers to cups, launched a #RaceTogether hashtag, and handed out questionnaires asking customers how many black friends they had. What could go wrong?

Instagram followers had a few problems with the initiative from @StarbucksPartners. The company was jumping into something totally unrelated to its brand, and its lack of diversity in some locations seemed to make the chain a poor choice for the debate. Some critics noted how tightly coffee and the history of slavery were intertwined. Race Together read as a tone deaf PR campaign exploiting racial tensions to sell coffee.

Despite the criticism, Starbucks didn’t back down.

Can a big brand participate in a conversation about a sensitive topic like race?

Detractors used Instagram to suggest that better wages or job security for its largely-minority staff may have been more meaningful. By turning racial tension in the US into a sticker for their products, Starbucks oversimplified the issue and angered those it affects. Below, a graph of the @StarbucksPartners likes and comments on Instagram for 2015, made using Crowdbabble.

Starbucks Partners’ account has enjoyed consistently high engagement on Instagram in 2015 at an average of 1,713 likes or comments from users per day, but its average went down to 1,613 from April to August after the campaign. As with the other 2015 blunders, followers stepped away from the brand on social media.

SeaWorld’s #AskSeaWorld

Since the documentary Blackfish was widely distributed on Netflix, SeaWorld has had a rough time. In March — was there a collective gas leak for social media teams in spring 2015? — the company opened itself up to complaints with an #AskSeaWorld hashtag.

The hashtag was hijacked and became a trending topic on Twitter as pointed questions went viral.

Not exactly the impact the brand hoped to have. How did the crisis affect the already-embattled @SeaWorld?

The crisis might have taught SeaWorld to stay quiet, but the brand didn’t apologize. An apology without a change in its policies would have likely sparked more outraged, as Bic experienced on Facebook.

Instead, after #AskSeaWorld, the brand has used Twitter to fight allegations stemming from Blackfish, gaining retweets along with angry comments. We used Crowdbabble’s analytics tools to pinpoint the July 10 spike in the graph above. After Harry Styles called out @SeaWorld for its conditions, the company’s response attracted 4,932 retweets and 5,516 favourites, more than @SeaWorld’s monthly average. Its follower growth has been steady, indicating that as Blackfish and the #AskSeaWorld bungle fades, there’s some hope that the deluge of irate comments might let up.

2015 Social Media Disasters in Review

On social media, quickly jumping on trending topics — emojis, current events — is essential. Being the first or the funniest can have a big payoff for brands. These social media disasters, however, highlight the importance of a thorough approval process. It might have slowed their response time down, but it might have prevented some of the ill-conceived initiatives above.

Blackberry, Bic, Clorox, Starbucks, and SeaWorld are still struggling to restore engagement with their followers and fans. Blackberry and SeaWorld could apologize without drawing more attention to their errors; their viral tweets weren’t offensive, just humiliating. Only the Houston Rockets managed to avoid long-term social media excommunication by apologizing more than some followers said they needed to. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, grovelling often plays well.

Marketers can learn a lot from the mistakes, and attempts to reconcile, big brands make so publicly on social media. What fresh embarrassment will 2016 bring? Since spring is apparently social media disaster season, it won’t be long until we find out.

All data visualizations were created in Crowdbabble. This story is part of a series on social media viral sensations and crisis management. Look for Crisis Management 101 here.

Next Story — Donald Trump, “Dwayne” Wade, and the Outrage Machine
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Donald Trump, “Dwayne” Wade, and the Outrage Machine

By Katie Meyer

“Dwayne Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed while walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!” — Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump)

When running a campaign, when is it a good idea to co-opt a personal tragedy for retweets and votes?

For brands, the answer is definitely never. For Presidential candidates, politicizing a person’s death — especially when their politics are counter to your own — is usually a fire-starter. But Donald Trump’s campaign runs out outrage. The Republican’s baiting tweets often work for him, not against him.

Will the Dwyane Wade gaffe destroy Donald Trump on Twitter? Or is the “mistake” another key step in Trump’s shock-and-awe strategy?

Gun Control vs. Tough on Crime

In the 2016 Presidential election, a key differentiation point between candidates is the second amendment. Hillary Clinton has positioned herself as the gun control candidate; even Bernie Sanders is against background checks. Hillary has succeeded in gathering support from minorities living in urban centres due to her voting record on gun control and emphasis on anti-violence policies in her campaign.

Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, has taken on the party’s values around the right to bear arms. According to Fox News, Donald Trump is running as the “law-and-order” candidate; he frequently uses #MakeAmericaSafeAgain on his Twitter account. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if his tweets are tough on crime or tough on minorities.

Trump’s “Dwayne” tweet didn’t come across as tough on crime to everyone. Throughout his campaign, Trump has been criticized for racism, including statements against “the blacks.” Appropriating a gun violence tragedy for his campaign, particularly one involving minorities he has sidelined, read as opportunistic on social media. Trump’s political views couldn’t be further from those of the grieving family, making the tragedy a poor fit for his campaign. Misspelling Dwyane the more “conventional” way added insult to injury.

Did the tweet impact Donald Trump’s momentum on Twitter?

Trump Falls Out

Caught in the crossfire of a fight that had nothing to do with her, on August 26 Nykea Aldridge was shot while taking her daughter for a walk in her stroller. That night, Dwyane Wade tweeted about his cousin’s death, condemning gun violence. In replies to Wade’s tweet, Trump followers got to him before Trump did.

Donald Trump tweeted at 9:24 AM the next morning, on August 27. By that afternoon, the story had been picked up by most major news outlets and aggregators like Jezebel.

Response from Wade and other outraged Twitter users was swift and brutal. Donald Trump quickly deleted the original tweet and sent out a corrected version, with the right spelling of Dwyane — and the same message.

After retweeting Trump, comedian Don Cheadle asked the candidate to “die in a grease fire.”

Criticism of Trump from other outraged Twitter users quickly followed. Hashtag #dwyanewade took off.

With the misspelt tweet, Donald Trump thrust himself back into the spotlight. Trump, not the tragedy, was at the centre of the conversation around #dwyanewade on Twitter.

After Trump’s tweet on August 27, mentions of the candidate were higher than average on Twitter.

As shown in the graph above, the “Dwayne” tweet didn’t discourage engagement with Trump. His handle @realDonaldTrump received 5,978 mentions on August 27. His corrected tweet, not misspelling Dwyane, attracted 30,523 total likes and retweets. The tweet perceived so negatively received Trump’s average per-tweet engagement, well ahead of his least-engaging tweet over the past two weeks, which received just 5,444 likes and retweets. Donald Trump’s followers seem to be encouraged by outrage from the other side.

Outrage fuels engagement for Donald Trump on social media. By baiting the media with offensive statements, like his criticism of the Khan family or Mexican immigrants, Trump receives more attention and engagement. Since his tweet about the personal strategy of “Dwayne”, his reach on social media and in the news has only increased.

Hillary Sweeps In

Donald Trump goes out of his way to attract criticism from left-wing social media users because it reaffirms his outsider, conservative brand for his voting base. Pillorying the liberal elite ups his conservative cache for Republicans. The more opposition Trump can draw from them, the more authentic and powerful he seems.

Still, in solidifying his base, Trump might be alienating some Republicans. Even right-leaning publications like New York Daily News criticized the “Dwayne” tweet as “insensitive” and “pompous.” As she’s done throughout her duel with Trump, Hillary has leveraged this crisis to her advantage. On Twitter, Hillary reminded followers about Trump’s racist past business practices, like not renting to black tenants.

In the wake of Trump’s “mistake”, Hillary has used these strategic reminders to undercut the purported sincerity and concern in Trump’s tweet. On August 26, the day after the tragedy, her follower growth spiked.

@realDonaldTrump, on the other hand, experienced a slump in follower growth.

On social media, Donald Trump’s abrasive style is driving high engagement. The candidate’s direct, rousing content strategy earns more like and retweets than the Democrats’ more nuanced calls to action. But his strategy is paying off for Democrats as well. Though the Trump outrage machine drives more hardline conservatives towards him, it also appears to push moderates away — toward Hillary.

Will Outrage Put Trump or Clinton in the White House?

From Elizabeth Warren to Dwyane Wayde, Trump draws liberals into Twitter battles that cannot be won on the terms of common sense or reason. Sensationalist messaging draws the spotlight back to his campaign and his policies, bringing with it higher engagement.

By encouraging outrage, Trump seems to win, no matter the outcome. But his divisive tweets come at a price to his reputation among more moderate voters.

This post is part of a series on the Presidential Election 2016 and social media. Look for election here.

Next Story — How to Don Draper Your Social Media: A Guide for Agencies
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How to Don Draper Your Social Media: A Guide for Agencies

By Katie Meyer

“Please RT! I #followback” — Don Draper, never

Is your agency more Lou Avery or Don Draper on social media?

Luring clients on social media is different than luring customers. Agencies should use social media to underline their ability to take risks that pay off, making brands trendy while protecting them from controversy. More amateur social media strategies — asking for RTs, jumping on every hot hashtag — don’t cut it with clients who want to pay for innovative work. Hitching agency’s social channels to trending hashtags, celebrities, or topics could attract more followers in the short term, at the risk of damaging your brand.

How can agencies use social media to communicate innovation and safety at the same time?

The Lou Avery Way

Agencies are in a tough spot when crafting an appealing voice on social: they have to simultaneously demonstrate that they’re trustworthy and in on the latest trends. Articulating both on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is challenging. False notes about being hip with the kids might be missed by consumers, but they will be noticed by clients.

It’s tempting for agencies to become risk averse on social media, protecting their brand and avoiding controversy at all costs. If a social media agency promising to protect brands from controversy became embroiled in one itself, it would lose all credibility.

But playing it safe might come with a higher cost, communicating a lack of innovation and a deafness towards trends to clients. Boilerplate content, lacklustre campaigns, and a dull voice will drive clients away. Can agencies stay trendy on social without risking their reputations?

Don Draper Inspired

Pinch Social of Toronto has articulated its expertness well on Twitter, positioning itself as an agency with the inside track on upcoming social innovations.

The agency’s most popular tweets center on breaking social media news, as shown in the Crowdbabble table below. Rather than engaging in trending topics that could go awry, Pinch shares trending social media news. “Change is neither good or bad, it simply is,” Pinch seems to say on Twitter, its tone exuding calm and control.

Sharing news quickly emphasizes that Pinch Social is at the forefront of social media innovation, which has helped it brand itself as an authority in social marketing. Agencies can figure out what content is successful with their audiences using Crowdbabble analytics; Pinch succeeds when it’s the first to share marketing news.

Pinch Social, like Don Draper, has what are called “testable credentials.” Don’s credentials included legendary creative power and foresight, credentials that clients were invited to test for themselves by meeting him in person and asking him to come up with campaigns on the spot. Testimonials? Unnecessary: Don was so confident in his abilities that he could make them credible by asking clients to test them for themselves. Post-Mad Men, agencies make their claims credible by inviting everyone on the internet to test them for themselves — by looking at each agency’s own social media channels, a new iteration of Don’s catered boardroom meeting.

Pinch Social’s credibility is not certified by experts on social media, but can instead be verified by potential clients when they look at the agency’s social feeds. Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Made to Stick, write that a testable credential is created when a brand outsources “its credibility to its customers”, asking them to test it for themselves. This is an incredibly powerful way to advertise credibility: by putting their social media strategies out in the open, on their own social accounts, agencies invite customers to see what they can do. For agencies, social media creates testable credentials: the credentials that you advertise to clients are ones that they can now verify themselves, before the boardroom meeting. Let’s imagine that your agency promises clients bigger audiences: clients will go to your own social media channels to verify your ability to do that.

Public Inc, another successful Toronto agency, has also carved out a niche identity on social by sharing news. Its most engaging posts focus on positive social news, involving local causes and non-profit groups. Its testable credentials are its credibility, but also its goodness.

The positive slant of Public’s social voice makes it easy to retweet; #causemarketing also gives the brand trustworthiness. Like Pinch, Public uses Twitter to establish itself as an authority in social media marketing — an extremely hireable trait for clients.

As Peggy Olson once said, “I’d never recommend imitation as a strategy. You’ll be second, which is very far from first.” Bandwagon social media might work for clients, but agencies should steer clear of jumping on #hothashtags every time they come up. Trading trending topics for trending news, Public Inc and Pinch Social have both been able to advertise themselves on social as current and credible.


One of the first things a client will check when considering your agency is its social channels. Along with past campaigns, your own social is a great indicator of your approach to marketing and your ability to build an audience. Building your reputation as an authority in social media, in a unique voice, will impress potential clients.

When stuck between Lou Avery or Don Draper when it comes to social strategy, the middle road could be best. An agency’s own social media channels are where its credentials — like credibility and inventiveness — will be tested by potential clients.

Before sharing content on social, ask yourself, “would Peggy Olson put her name on this?” Does this tweet live up to the credentials you advertise to clients? If your content is innovative and cutting-edge, without undermining your credibility, you’ve hit the sweet spot between safety and risk-taking. Tweet away!

Next Story — Weddings: The Thunderdome of Social Media
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Weddings: The Thunderdome of Social Media

By Katie Meyer

Going to the chapel and we’re… going to put it on Instagram.

In the age of #CustomNuptialHashtags, weddings are a bigger business than ever. As grooms and brides publish their weddings online, vendors are put on display — and into competition. The Most Liked Wedding contest is unofficially running 24/7 for all soon-to-be-married 20-somethings on social media. It’s a huge opportunity and challenge for brands in the wedding industry.

Could your organic naked sponge cake, artistically draped with sage brush, get #CraigAndStephanie4Ever more comments than their BFFs #SmithlyWeds2016? Will your bespoke hand-painted barn wood sign edge #ChrisandChrissie ahead on Facebook for the most liked album in their friend group? The answer might decide whether or not you get hired.

Welcome to the wedding thunderdome, where every like, favourite, and retweet counts.

Getting it right on social media is the key to a steady stream of clients for wedding vendors. There are more than 1,224 wedding photographers, 250 wedding makeup artists, and 400 planners in Ontario alone. How can vendors compete, when social media is awash with picture-perfect weddings?

Define Your Brand

Launching a social media campaign as a wedding vendor can be an intimidating process. How can you compete?

The hashtag #barnwedding returns more than 100,000 posts on Instagram. Mason jar centrepieces? There are millions of Pinterest pins. Perfect blushing bride makeup? Thousands of Facebook posts. How can you stand out?

Developing a successful wedding vendor business means constructing an original brand and voice that echoes in all the work you share on social. Staying generic (#barnwedding! #sunflare!) might work in the short term by appealing to everyone. But it also means that your posts will get lost online in the deluge of wedding content.

Fab Fete Event Planning, a Toronto company dedicated to “all things pretty”, uses a very specific type of pretty to define its brand on Instagram. Almost every photo shared has a dose of pink or gold, but most aren’t Pinterest-perfect staged pictures. The Crowdbabble table below shows her top posts for July, peak wedding season.

Fab Fete’s focus on bringing pretty glamour into the real world has helped the company succeed on Instagram, with a high engagement rate.

As shown in the Crowdbabble graph below, Fab Fete’s Instagram uploads usually attract more than 100 likes.

Fab Fete’s high engagement is the engine for the account’s follower growth (Fab’s current following is 3,097), which extends the reach of its content and helps it find new customers. By tracking engagement rate and other metrics, vendors can find out what content is working and what isn’t — which can help you narrow down your style and audience to define your unique voice. Successful brand development requires social media analytics.

Making your content more specific will narrow your audience… right down to potential leads. Your social media audience might be smaller, but engagement — and conversions — will be much higher.

Be a Person

Weddings are about the love between two people (and how it can be photographed for Instagram).

Wedding content performs best when it’s posted in the voice of a real person. Vendors, after all, are real people who will be involved in an important day.

Integrating yourself into your social media posts is part of creating a memorable and approachable brand that appeals to people getting married. It’s easy to hate high-maintenance brides, but your social media presence has to communicate that you’re easy to work with.

Two of the most engaging posts for Fab Fete include its owner: they showcase that she cares about family and is passionate about her business (in the car = busy and hardworking, in a magazine spread = trustworthy and sought-after). By integrating herself into her online content, she expresses values that will help potential customers connect with her.

Love by Lynzie is another Toronto wedding vendor who is also killing it on Instagram. All posts are in first person, by Lynzie Kent, the event planner and owner. Like Fab Fete, Love by Lynzie stands out with a striking visual style. Stepping away from the traditional wedding pink and gold, Lynzie goes for a kaleidoscope of colours: every Instagram upload is a rainbow. Her brand of wedding is well defined: bohemian, but polished.

Lynzie’s personality shines through in her visual style and captions on Instagram. By marketing herself as upbeat and carefree, she can sell couples on bringing her into their special day. Like Fab Fete, posts with her children shows customers making their own families that she shares their values.

Incorporating herself into her brand has kept engagement for @lovebylynzie high, with an average of 111 comments and likes each day.

Customers always factor in the person, not just the product, when choosing a wedding vendor. By tracking your social media performance with Crowdbabble, you can find out how much your audience responds to posts that feature you more heavily.

On social media, vendors have the opportunity to showcase their work and how awesome they are to work with. Doing both will turn social media leads into sales.

Use Your Competitors

Partnering with vendors in adjacent wedding categories can help you build your business. They might be competing for the same audience, but they can’t steal your business if they provide different services.

Communities on social media are built, like scaffolding, over top one one another. You can use another vendor’s audience on Instagram to build your own, and vice versa.

For example, wedding photographer swapping shoutouts with a cake vendor — one who matches their audience, brand, and voice — can be mutually beneficial.

For Love by Lynzie, likes and comments are the easiest to attract when she engages with other vendors. One of Love by Lynzie’s most engaging Instagrams over the past month, the rainbow piñata pictured above, captured a collaboration with four other brands. In the caption, Lynzie wrote: “On set today with @belairdirect @bemakeful [email protected] teaching you how to make simple, summer fun projects for your next cottage party. I am in love with this rainbow piñata we made!” By tagging collaborators in the description, Lynzie capitalized on their audiences — garnering more likes and comments.

What to do with direct competitors? After you’ve developed your brand, learning more about their strategies with social media analytics can help you get ahead.

First, you need to identify your direct competitors: these are vendors who are going after the same demographic of engaged lovebirds as you are and offering the same services.

Next, create a competitive report.

With Crowdbabble’s competitor reports, you can track vendors going after the same audience.

Competitor reports also show the impact of potential collaborations: they compile engagements and followers, giving you an idea of what your total audience might be with cross-promotion.

By adding their accounts to your analytics dashboard, you can learn from their successes and mistakes. With Crowdbabble, you can discover what your competitor’s most engaging posts, hashtags, and filters are. This insider info will bolster your own social strategy with the knowledge of what their (soon to be your) audience loves.

May the Odds Be In Your Favour

With social media, wedding vendors — from florists to rented tuba players — are put on display in realtime as guests share images and videos. Weeks after the cake cutting has been Instagrammed, the vendor details are showcased online again as the photographer uploads an album to their website and professional pictures are re-shared.

The constant social sharing cycle for weddings is a huge opportunity for vendors, even though keeping up can be a challenge.

Leverage social media to find new customers by defining your brand, selling yourself, and tracking your competitors. With the plan outlined above, you can use this hyper-competitive arena to your advantage.

Next Story — DIY Politics on the Social Network for Conservatives
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DIY Politics on the Social Network for Conservatives

By Katie Meyer

Surprised by the Brexit vote?

Conservative strongholds on social media are often invisible to the typical social media user. If you’re a Millenial, your Facebook newsfeed may have suggested that a Remain majority was certain — or that a Trump presidency is unlikely. Social networks popular with young people can seem to confirm that older, more conservative voters aren’t on social, but that conclusion isn’t based in fact: the echo-chamber of closed social networks like Facebook, where your audience is friends who agree with you, can just make it seem that way.

Where are right wing social media users, and how can they be reached?

Millenial overtures about the perils of isolationism on Twitter and Facebook are not being heard, because supporters of Leave and Trump are not on Twitter. They’re not among your friends on Facebook. Conservative social media users have their own echo chambers, where they can post without fear of harsh criticism from their audiences of friends and family. For Brexit and Trump supporters, that echo chamber is Pinterest.

The Heartland of Social Media

Disenfranchised working-class social media users feel heard on Pinterest, a network largely bypassed by the “elite” that so many pins (user-generated posts posts) vilify. According to a 2015 Pew study, there are three times more women on Pinterest than men — the demographics are surprising, given the network’s conservative, pro-Trump and pro-Brexit lean. 23% of black Internet users and 32% of Hispanic Internet users are on Pinterest — it’s less diverse than Instagram, but almost equal portions of black, Hispanic, and white Internet users have an account. Pinterest has a decidedly diverse and female user base.

The network that celebrates DIY home hacks has a decidedly libertarian streak in its most popular content — plus a healthy dose of nationalism.

Pro-Leave and pro-Trump boards often overlap. They’re pinned by the same Pinterest users: the working class who seem to feel, judging by their pins, disenfranchised. The wealthiest Internet users are on other social platforms: 72% of Internet users who make more than $75,000 per year are on Facebook, while only 34% of that same wealthy demographic are on Pinterest, according to Pew’s 2014 social media update. Similarly, 74% of Internet users with a college degree are on Facebook, while just 32% of the same demographic are on Pinterest.

Searching “brexit” on the social network returns both anti-Hillary and anti-EU pins. Strong sentiment about benefits being given to new immigrants (rather than, presumably, poor citizens) are linked to both Brexit and Trump pins. Xenophobia, and content about stricter boarders, are common on both Trump and Brexit boards.

Finding content positive about voting Hillary is almost as hard as finding content positive about voting Remain on Pinterest. Search queries that should return liberal-leaning pins return the opposite.

The same occurs when searching remain, the British position to stay in the EU. Most “remain” pins are actually anti-remain pins, showing how few remain supporters there are on the social network.

The relationship between anti-TTIP sentiment — a trade deal criticized for its potential to increase income inequality and hurt the non-urban working class — and Leave sentiment on Pinterest is also strong. Globalization, conservative Pinterest users appear to feel, has not trickled down to them.

Pinterest users are less urban than the general population: 31% of Internet users who live in the suburbs and 31% who live in rural areas have a Pinterest account. On Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, those proportions are inverted: a higher percentage of urban Internet users are on the networks than the other demographic. Anger at elitism in government (and big cities) is common on Pinterest boards, as shown in the Brexit pins below.

Pinterest is a decidedly opinion-based platform when it comes to politics. Very few users visit Pinterest for news, according to Pew Research Centre: just 3%, compared to 70% for Reddit and 66% for Facebook, eclipsing Twitter as the second most popular news source on social media. Pinterest users create boards to curate their opinions, not find opposite arguments . The network’s Picked for You functionality underlines its echo chamber quality; much like the Facebook, the more you like a type of content, the more the network will show it to you in your home feed.

DIY Politics

Even with an official Pinterest account, Hillary is the clear underdog candidate on the platform. She has just 8,900 Pinterest followers, compared to 7.28 million on Twitter and 1.4 million on Instagram. Pinterest users are not Hillary’s demographic. Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign do not have official accounts on Pinterest: they don’t need them. Pinterest users create and collect enough right-leaning content themselves, and they prefer it that way. How can she, and other left-leaning causes and brands, reach Pinterest users?

The most popular (repinned) pins have a homemade aesthetic, which lends them authenticity. Unlike Hillary’s and Remain’s slick agency-produced content, Brexit and Trump pins are clearly homemade: Comic Sans, pixelation, and other underproduced choices are frequent visual motifs.

Pinterest users are older; this might explain their disinterest in contemporary design trends. According to Pew, 37% of Pinterest users are 18 to 29, and 40% are over 50. Young people congregate on other networks. 53% of Internet users between 18 and 29 are on Instagram, and 87% are on Facebook.

The homemade feel doesn’t undermine the pins, but rather legitimizes them to their older, suburban audiences. Brexit and Trump content on Pinterest is made by a a huge audience of supporters, while Hillary and Remain’s pins were slickly produced by hired ad firms — by the much-despised elite often aligned with both. Brett and Trump’s pins, in contrast, look like they were made by the people. The overproduced quality of Hillary and Remain’s content on the network might seem to be an asset: shouldn’t social media content look good?

But in looking good, content also looks fake — at least on Pinterest, where DIY = authentic.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but what Hillary needs to prevent Brexit-like upheaval is thousands of pins that look like garbage, but were made by real supporters. Homemade pro-Hillary memes do well on Pinterest, and have thousands of repins. On Pinterest, liberal causes and brands can succeed by throwing out their visual playbooks and embracing Comic Sans.

Mason Jars, Babies, and Halloween Costumes

Clinton, and other left-leaning brands, do best when they rely on grassroots content — or create their own content in Pinterest’s most popular categories. A pro-Hillary onesie, for example, is one of the candidate’s most repinned pins: babies are a very popular content theme on Pinterest.

Pinterest boards and pins are divided into categories, which pinners can use to browse content. Hillary’s board dedicated to her new granddaughter Charlotte is one of her best performing, tied with her Women Who Inspire board, with 7,200 followers. Nostalgia is another important content theme on Pinterest — consequently, Hillary’s Memorable Moments board has the highest number of followers (7,400), even though it has only 6 pins.

DIY, recipes, and holidays are heavily trafficked categories on Pinterest: the domestic side of life dominates the social network.

Clinton succeeded on the conservative network when she took on a DIY Pinterest trend that might have been used against her: Hillary for Halloween.

Months in advance, Hillary is ready for one of Pinterest’s most popular content themes: Halloween. Despite their professional, anti-DIY appearance, the pins already have dozens of repins each. They dominate search results for “Hillary Clinton halloween costume”, which could have been unflattering to the candidate.

Donald Trump, who does not have an official Pinterest account, has not taken control of this content theme. As a result, his search results on the topic are far less flattering.

By using Pinterest’s Halloween trend to her advantage, Clinton has shown how to control the conversation on Pinterest — even when you’re the network’s underdog. If Trump, or other conservative causes, wanted to extend reach on the platform, creating an official account and publishing content in Pinterest’s most popular themes would be a good first step.

Marketing in the Mason Jar Belt

Right-leaning Pinterest users create boards filled with their grievances, from feeling unheard by governments to being left behind by austerity measures. But the user-base seems antithetical to the stereotypical image of the white, male Trump or Brexit supporter. Assumptions about what Pinterest’s diverse and female user base wants undermine marketing efforts on the platform.

Social media marketers who want to drum up support for left-leaning brands or causes can learn from Hillary’s strategy on Pinterest, and the mistakes of Remain’s. Grassroots content and careful excursions into Pinterest’s most popular content themes can extend reach on Pinterest, while visuals that succeed with urban social media users on other platforms fail. In the heartland of social media, Comic Sans and Donald Trump are popular because of their lack of popularity on “more liberal” platforms; the DIY politics of outsider candidates, causes, and brands dominate.

This post is part of a series on social media and the 2016 Presidential Election. Pinterest analytics are coming soon to Crowdbabble.

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