With KFC’s recent social media firestorm surrounding an automated promotional message, it’s important for brands and agencies to reflect on how to prevent communication missteps.

All across the advertising world, teams are under pressure to always be creating content, whether it’s to satisfy ever-changing and often capricious algorithms on platforms or to juice more engagement out of their audience to help prove their jobs are valid to the powers that be.

This never-ending need for content and to consistently be present has led to an increase in “celebratory” days and users’ phones and feeds being flooded with content created so brands can participate—but that often isn’t adding value or encouraging meaningful engagement (and, in turn, affinity) for the brand.

Instead of simply working on autopilot and going through a calendar to create content for each holiday and “national” day, agencies should be guiding their brands to value quality and alignment with goals—and examine whether they should participate at all.

If social or content teams are given the space and autonomy to take a step back from the daily grind, the impact on the work produced would more than likely lean toward the positive, with consumers genuinely interacting with the brand.

This approach could have helped the team behind KFC’s automated message to think more critically about the significance of the day being highlighted for the promotion, rather than flippantly suggesting adding more cheese to customers’ chicken sandwiches.

So where do you start to be more aware and intentional about how you’re showing up around holidays?

First, go back to the troves of research and audience data that many brands are sitting on: What makes your customers tick? Having a handle on the things that matter to them and how they are expecting brands to show up could potentially release teams from the pressure to always show up. Many consumers, especially younger ones, are looking for brands to be authentic and give a collective eyeroll when their feeds, emails and push notifications are flooded with empty commemorative day messages.

Connect with your social media team to better understand the trends your audience is talking about and participating in. Then identify if you’ve got a right to participate or contribute to the trend—you may find that you can build something that resonates more than a simple “celebrate X holiday with our product” by paying attention to the ways your audience is using various platforms and choosing to engage with your brand and each other. 

Finally, make sure you understand the significance outside of marketing for any dates you want to align with. Could there be a risk in not acknowledging a specific memorial date or day of remembrance from your brand channels? Potentially—but I’d venture the number of comments from people challenging your brand will be few and far between.

Understand and assess the risks associated with potentially not saying anything, and devote time and resources to the times where you can shine for the right reasons.