It’s all the rage for trendy marketers to roll out edgy social media campaigns. These campaigns get great buzz and have a chance to go viral. But there’s also a downside. Marketers must stay positive and altruistic or risk confusing or alienating their  fan base.

WaveMetrix recently reported on the latest trends in social media and how marketers can get the most out of their campaigns. They highlighted Colgate’s toothpaste Smile campaign which encouraged consumers to upload photos of themselves. The brand got a huge lift about this campaign because it promoted a positive activity about a well-known brand and served as a great example of crowdsourcing. Slightly less successful was the campaign asking consumers to upload the sounds of eating Nando’s. Because Nando’s is not well-known, consumers were confused and the campaign wasn’t completely successful.

The biggest danger for marketers is in trying to use social media to ‘attack’ the competition. Fans criticized Microsoft for spoofing Gmail and EasyJet for going after British Airways. In both cases, the social media campaigns were meant to poke fun at the competition. But fans didn’t see it that way. Microsoft’s effort was called childish and 74% of the buzz was negative. EasyJet’s campaign resulted in a 54% negative buzz rate.

But the more difficult problem for the brand managers was the lack of control. Once a marketer launches a campaign, any backlash in social media cannot be stopped. American Express found itself on the defensive after it encouraged Twitter users to tweet phrases that inspired them and include the tag #AmexBeInspired. The social media crowd quickly determined the campaign was obviously self-serving and bashed the brand.

On the other hand, taking big risks can be rewarding. Domino’s displayed live feedback from customers on a giant billboard in Times Square. About 12% of social media fans said Domino’s was brave to take such a risk and they ‘respected’ the company for being ‘honest and open’.

There’s a fine line between creating a successful social media campaign and getting it really wrong. The brands that succeed can improve their visibility with core fans, win new fans and increase loyalty.

[Source: Benefits and limits of a social media fanbase. Wavemetrix. September 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2011]