The Oscars mistake: brand, social media and getting it right

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, you’ll have noticed things went a little bit awry at this year’s Oscars ceremony. The wrong envelope was handed to the presenters of the Best Picture award category, the wrong movie was announced as having won and then… well, then chaos took hold.

As an accountant, you may also have noted that the company behind the running of the voting system was none other than PwC – one of the world’s biggest and most trusted professional services and accountancy firms.

And, to add insult to injury, you’ve probably also seen claims that the key PwC partner’s over-zealous use of Twitter at the awards may have been the root cause of the mistake.

Here at Profitable Firm, you’ll know that we’re huge advocates of accountants using social media to promote your firm, interact with clients and get messages out there in the world. From our standpoint, it looks very much like the blame lies not with using social media, but with a lack of focus on the more important job in hand – getting those envelopes in the right order!

So, when and how should you be using social media effectively as an accountancy firm? And when should you definitely have your smartphone safely stowed away in your pocket?

To tweet, or not to tweet? (Social is not the problem)

It’s probably every Big Four accountancy firm’s biggest nightmare – you perform a piece of work with an incredibly high-profile client, at a highly prestigious event and (in front of the TV cameras and the entire world) everything begins to go wrong.

For most smaller and mid-size firms, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be officiating at something quite as big as the Oscars. But the underlying principle of the client/accountant contract is the same, regardless of the size of your firm – when a business engages you, you agree to do the job right and to make sure everything goes according to plan.

So, should one of the two key partners in charge of the running of the award results be tweeting photos of the winning actors and focusing on social media at the event?

The answer is (as with most everything in marketing): ‘It depends.’

Yes, if they’ve got a plan to make sure their tweeting and social enhances the event, and doesn’t prevent them doing their job.

No, if the above isn’t true.

The problem with what happened at the Oscars this year wasn’t that tweeting or social was going on. The problem was that they had the wrong FOCUS.

When your job is to do what the client engaged you to do – officiate the awards smoothly – then being your firm’s PR person behind the scenes is a lower priority and needs to take a back seat.

When social is used at the wrong time, or by the wrong person, there’s an impact.

But, lest you gather round to celebrate the demise of social media – and possibly your own accounting firm’s less-than-enthusiastic adoption of it – remember that although you can see a real negative impact with social, you can also see a real positive one, too.

When things do go wrong, social becomes an extremely powerful tool for accepting responsibility, apologising to the world and making it clear that you messed up.

Hold your hand up fast – and use social media well

In the case of the Oscars, it was pretty apparent that something had gone VERY wrong with the process behind the scenes. The protocols weren’t followed, the outcome wasn’t as intended and the client (the Academy) was no doubt rightly furious.

But what PwC did right was to hold their hand up and accept responsibility for the error. And when a mistake does creep into a project, that’s always the best thing to do. Look at the facts, find out what happened and (if the error was your fault) be quick to own the mistake.

Ironically in this case, we saw that a social media network is a great forum to make your apology as public and all embracing as possible.

A statement was released, and also tweeted from the PwC LLP Twitter account, which began:

“PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols during last night’s Oscars…”

In professional services, the client relationship is everything. So if you’ve let the client down, you’d better be apologising in a serious way if you want the client back on board with your firm, your people and your brand. At the time of writing, the Academy is still reviewing its relationship with PwC… but the the two partners in question most definitely won’t be getting an invite for next year’s ceremony.

Use social media the RIGHT way at events

What’s the key learning from the Oscar debacle?

In a nutshell, it’s that social media is an incredibly powerful and far-reaching PR tool. But, more importantly, there’s very clearly a time and place to use social.

Here are a few tips for using social media effectively at business events, awards dinners and client social events (without creating a PR nightmare):

  • Focus on delivering for the client – remember why your client engaged you and remain focused on delivering on that promise at all times. Completing the job and preserving your client relationship is your core responsibility, not promoting your firm.
  • Don’t be distracted from the job in hand – after a few glasses of bubbly, it can be easy to get distracted by your smartphone and to start sharing photos and tweets willy nilly. By all means document the event, and make a few pics. But don’t let it become a distraction – clients would probably rather talk to you and socialise, rather than posing for that 22nd ‘crazy selfie’.
  • Have the right people in charge of tweeting – think about who’s best placed to be tweeting from the event. And if it’s not you, delegate it to someone who’s got the time, the tech knowledge and the requisite social media skills to share the very best elements of the event – rather than a blurry photo of a half-empty champers glass.
  • Make sure you and your team understand social – We’ve created an entire DIY-video programme called the Social Marketer to help accountants understand how to use and implement social media in the best way for their firms. The more investment you put into this level of education and training, the fewer chances there are for mistakes. (But as we’ve seen today, even the highest-level partners can make those mistakes – and it’s important how you deal with it.)
  • Spread the right messages at the right time – live tweeting and live video on social can be great tools in the right hands. But there’s also a sound argument for sharing your events experience with more of a time delay involved. Share some of the most interesting tweets, the best images and the most impactful video the day after the event – once hangovers have calmed down and the business community have actually logged in to their social networks, and are no longer dancing badly to a Beyonce song.

Summary: Social media is brilliant and requires education

When social media tools are used in the best way, they’re a brilliant way to promote your events, share the experiences from the night and build even stronger relationships with your clients, prospects and online followers.

But, as we’ve seen, it’s important to know WHEN to use social, and when to put that iPhone back in your suit pocket.

Now off you go to enjoy watching the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. …Or was it La La Land?