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Provocative or crude: Do some corporate accounts go too far on social media?


Go to the Société de transport de Montréal's (STM) official TikTok account, and you'll see a video of a woman wearing a bikini and standing in a pool.

With no warning, she pushes water through her thighs as the video quickly cuts to an STM bus being washed.

"This is how we wash our buses," the caption reads.

Provocative? Potentially. Offensive? To some.

In the age of quick attention spans and fleeting infatuations, many large companies are working hard to stay relevant and, most importantly, on-trend. Réponse à @⛷️ et c’est comme ça que ça se passe dans notre lave-bus, pas de 🧢 #montreal #bus #tiktokquebec #meme ♬ son original -

Though the video, a craze started by TikToker Daken Rudd, may have some people's eyeballs jumping out of their heads, an STM spokesperson tells CTV News the organization won't apologize for stirring the pot.

"When you're pushing limits, and you're doing more audacious content, you've got to make sure that you're not laughing at anyone but yourself," said Thierry Bruyère-L'Abbé, a social media advisor with the STM. "You're laughing at yourself, that's great. Laughing with other people is great, and there's a roast culture on TikTok that's very installed."

After all, the STM says it is the most followed public transit network in North America, with more than 70,000 followers on TikTok, 35,000 on Instagram and hundreds of thousands on Facebook and X, respectively.

"We're not trying to push a message down anyone's throat. People on TikTok are allergic to corporate content. They can smell it from a mile away," explains Bruyère-L'Abbé. "They want authenticity; they want transparency; they want to have fun."

Three rules

In reality, the STM is just one of many companies using social media to attract a wide range of followers, adapting each account to its generation: Facebook for Boomers and TikTok for Gen Z.

There are three cardinal rules to being on social media as a company, according to Dave Sommer, vice president of strategic communications at Enterprise Canada.

  • Don't punch down,
  • Don't try too hard, and
  • Don't be late to trends.

Sommer says corporations can be cheeky as long as they are able to provide their followers with serious information when needed.

"If you're being silly to the point where you're not seen as a source of authoritative information, that's a big problem," he said. "What you're seeing now is accounts doing far, far better than they ever did at being able to strike that balance between a little bit of fun, a little bit of silliness, and then conveying the important information."

When it comes to following social media trends, Sommer explains it's all about being timely, appropriate and on-brand.

"They want to see people who are communicating in the language of the internet, in the language of the platform," he tells CTV News. "If the STM is jumping on a trend...At first you might be like, this is technically a government account...At the same time, most people are looking at that going, 'Oh, they know how to have fun. It's interesting. I'm going to watch these guys' content.'"

At the end of the day, it's all in good fun, says Sommer, and "no one died."

Quebec trailblazers

Quebec companies Les Restaurants Lafleur and pre-owned car retailer HGrégoire also have staunch followings on their various platforms.

"It's a matter of giving the people what they want while staying true to our brand and still be informative," said HGrégoire Chief Marketing Officer Harry Kasparian. "Obviously, we can go a bit further on TikTok than on other social media platforms, and the audience expects this type of content."

@hgregoireauto Nous avons toutes les marques ! 😉👜🚗 #marques #voiture #humour #hgregoire #fyp @lamymy_animatrice ♬ son original - HGregoire

He adds using comedy or "edgier" content can still be informative.

"Through trends and creative ideas, they can learn about the car buying process and make smart decisions when buying their cars," Kasparian states. "As long as it's well done and it's done respectfully, users will appreciate the content for what it is and learn from it."

Carte blanche

Andrew Johnson, founder and CEO of Dreww, a digital advertising agency, says the most valuable thing a company can do is give their social media people "carte blanche" -- AKA, trust them.

"Typically, the guardrails that are given to us by a larger corporation are brand guidelines that are super strict," he tells CTV News. "It's also not just brand guidelines, but it's also kind of like this mindset of traditional advertising that needs to get utilized on social media. We really believe that if a brand wants to thrive on social media, it must adopt a content creator's mindset, and a content creator isn't an advertiser."

Representatives from Dreww worked with the marketing team at Les Restaurants Lafleur to come up with the idea of highlighting Lucie, an older French-Canadian woman  -- a "ma tante," if you will -- who's been working for Lafleur for over 30 years.

"We got to adopt the content creator's approach to social media, which involves kind of bringing this character to life," Johnson. "When you follow the Lafleur account, you really feel like you're watching an employee filming videos."

@restolafleur On m,a dit que la mode c, était d'être KETO maintenant. Voici mon régime KETO à moi !!! - Lucie #restolafleur ♬ original sound - Les Restaurants Lafleur

Alexandra Tsotsis, the marketing and communications director at Les Restaurants Lafleur, says it was important to come up with something unique to spotlight the brand.

"We really wanted something original," she explains. "We really wanted to have someone kind of really create that human approach where you feel like you've always known her, and she really represents the typical Madame casse-croûte lady."

Tsotsis points out there's a fine line between being suggestive and staying classy -- and walking that tightrope is part of the fun.

"I feel like we're right there, right at that line," she said. "If it didn't have those aspects, the community wouldn't talk about it and the truth is that's what makes...someone laugh or create engagement or, 'Oh my God, could you believe they did that?'" Top Stories

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