With many major brands having years of social media experience under their belts, one would expect that the most cringeworthy examples of social media faux pas would be well in the past.

But that isn’t the case.

Case in point: last week, Cheerios, the cereal brand owned by General Mills, found itself in hot water after the Minnesota-based company posted a tweet in response to the death of Prince.

It contained a “Rest in Peace” graphic in which the dot in the letter i was a Cheerio. Not surprisingly, many in the Twittersphere found the tweet to be in very poor taste.

While numerous other brands paid their respects to Prince on social media, the Cheerios tweet rubbed many people the wrong way because instead of keeping things simple and respectful, it incorporated the brands into the memorial.

When you have a brand, every event is not a cow

Why did Cheerios do such a thing? Welcome to branding in the age of social media.

Marketers are more focused than ever on promoting their brands, and social media channels like Twitter provide plenty of opportunities to insert a brand into the conversation without much effort.

In some cases, these opportunities are worthwhile.

For example – and apologies for harking back to this again – when the power went out during the Super Bowl, Oreo used its agile marketing savvy to seize the moment with the perfect tweet.

But obviously, the death of a beloved public figure is not the same as a blackout at a sporting event.

The Cheerios tweet demonstrates that too many marketers are so focused on branding anything and everything that they’re not using common sense or recognizing that some things just shouldn’t have a brand imprint.

Common sense still isn’t so common

Unfortunately, common sense still isn’t so common in social media. 

While it is true that bad publicity frequently doesn’t have long lasting effects in social media, brands shouldn’t make a habit of tweeting without thinking.

That’s precisely what Cheerios did when it attempted to turn a death into a branding opportunity.