What @iamjohnoliver’s Twitter Rant Can Teach Social Marketers

What @iamjohnoliver’s Twitter Rant Can Teach Social Marketers Kevin Shively Blogger Extraordinaire Simply Measured

Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

HBO television host and Daily Show alum John Oliver took some pointed shots at brands on Twitter this Sunday, criticizing several specific brands, and Corporate America in general, for trying to cash in on touchy trending topics.

It’s become common practice for brand marketers on Twitter to “newsjack” popular topics and hashtags, cashing in on the influx of traffic, even when it isn’t appropriate.

Oliver condemned this type of marketing, calling for more responsibility from brands, telling corporations that Twitter is “a cocktail party” and that they don’t belong there, so they should act responsibly. He even provided a “pledge” for brands who agreed with his sentiment.

In the 30 hours since the show, this 140-character hashtag (meant to inhibit brands from adding their own spin) has been used 2,980 times on Twitter.

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As a marketer for a social media analytics company that helps brands creatively cater to their social audience, I want to weigh in on this topic: He’s absolutely right.

I’m not saying that you should stop marketing to the social audience. I’d be out of a job, and you’d miss a huge opportunity. Twitter gives brands an engaged audience that actually wants to hear from you. This is one of the most unique values of social media, but only if you use it responsibly.

That was Oliver’s point. There are many ways to engage and grow your audience on Twitter. Trying to leverage these more serious conversations has more potential to backfire than the good it presents.

Look companies, your silence is never going to be controversial. No one will ever go, ‘I can’t believe it. Skittles didn’t tweet about 9-11 yesterday, they must support terrorism. I’m never eating them again.’   

–   John Oliver, Last Week Tonight

What Oliver’s Segment Can Teach Us

It would be easy for a brand marketer to get upset by Oliver’s lecture, but that misses the underlying value of his rant. Oliver and his team brilliantly pulled off a strategic Twitter campaign as a brand without appearing inauthentic, disrespectful, or tacky.

As marketers, it’s our job to think this way. We may not have TV shows to kick off our campaigns, but we’re in this line of work because we’re creative and resourceful. Piggybacking on tragic, difficult, and personal conversations is a risky tactic that doesn’t add a lot of value.

Meanwhile, Last Week Tonight created a unique experience that encouraged other high profile users to help promote for them. As a brand, this should be the focus, and a basic sense of logic should be used when interacting with a topic.

Take a page from Newcastle Brown Ale’s book. The brand found a way to do this with both a tongue-in-cheek style, and strong brand identity with Last Week Tonight‘s own hashtag.


On Twitter, we follow and engage with brands for the experience they provide (and because we love their products), not because they’re able to jump into every random conversation on the web. Focus on your brand experience, and always be cautious when an organic opportunity presents itself. You’re responsible for protecting your entire brand image, and maintaining your audience’s trust. Don’t take that lightly.

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Kevin Shively

As the head of content marketing at Simply Measured, cohost of the #SimplySocial podcast, and generally delightful person, my job is to tell stories to the internet...You're welcome internet.