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2015 is being hailed as the UK’s first social media election.

Politicians are tweeting furiously. Our feeds are crammed with political views and election based hashtags. It’s virtually impossible to ignore the uproar over a candidate’s latest gaffe.

It’s tempting for brands to want to cash in on election fever, but doing so may cause offense and garner support in equal measure. Cross the line and you may get burned.

Still want to give it a go? Here are a few tips for avoiding a PR crisis:

Don’t: single out people to attack

It’s petty, it will damage your brand, and it contributes to the worst part of the Internet.

PUMA’s Hong Kong page learnt this the hard way when it took a stance against Chai Yan Leung, the daughter of Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung, after she boasted about her extravagant lifestyle paid for with taxpayer money. Their post, a marathon t-shirt with offensive connotations, went too far. They were forced to apologise and delete the post, but it should never have happened in the first place.

Do: have a laugh at everyone’s expense

We’re not saying brands can’t comment; they just need to do so in the right way. The best approach to take is light-hearted and playful.

A great example was FedEx’s advert poking fun of the slur campaigns many politicians run during elections, while at the same time promoting the array of customisable brochures, mugs and banners they print and deliver.

Don’t: hold your own election

The election may be irrelevant for your products and services. Accept this fact and move on.

Polling your community on their favourite crisp flavour or pizza topping under the banner of the election is contrived, unoriginal and it won’t win fans.

Do: make a funny or clever connection

However, if you can make even a tenuous link between the event and your brands funny or clever, it can work.

Want an example? Last election, Ann Summers bid on popular election-related search terms and served potential consumers with some tongue-in-cheek copy.

Ann Summers ads

Want another one? In the last US election, may people threated to leave the country if their party didn’t win. So JetBlue, an aviation company, promised over 1,000 voters a free flight if they found themselves disappointed by the end result.

Don’t: affiliate yourself with a particular party, unless provoked

Before you publicly align with a party, ask yourself if they reflect your fan base. With current BBC polls showing that no single party has more than 34% of the vote, throwing your support behind one over the other may lead to alienation.

However, if you find yourself in a political cross fire, you may want to respond.

When Mitt Romney, a US presidential candidate, threatened to cut PBS funding in the last US election, ‘Sesame Street’s’ Big Bird started trending.

PBS newsjacked the story and targeted people searching for Big Bird to promote themselves through a ‘trusted, valued and essential’ campaign. They then took it a step further when Big Bird appeared in a Democrat advert mocking Romney – it’s brilliant.

Do: take a relevant socio-political stance

The companies who are successfully taking social or political stances are the ones whose brand values are worn on their sleeve.

Innocent Smoothies have a political message at their core and they put themselves forward as an ethical and environmentally friendly company. Carrying these themes through any election-related content will feel natural and make sense for the brand.

In short, keep your messaging light and playful, find clever connections to your products or services and, above all, stay on brand!

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