December 4th, 2012
Social media is a fickle friend. Sometimes, social media lifts brands to #1 status through viral engagement. And, sometimes it tears down established brands based on one mistake. 2012 was no different. Big brands like McDonald’s, Snickers, and Microsoft made some pretty big blunders that caused backlash felt long after the offensive status update, photo, or tweet was published.
So, what can you learn from 2012’s biggest social media snafus?
Early this year, McDonald’s experimented with promoted tweets using the hashtags #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories. Unfortunately for the fast food mega giant, customers started posting McDonald’s horror stories using the hashtag #mcdstories. So, McDonald’s ended up paying to promote bad publicity about the brand.
How to Avoid McDonald’s Fate: Think about your audience and customers. But more importantly, think about who you are as a company. If you are struggling with customer service problems or products customers are unhappy with, a promoted tweet is only going to invite complaints and controversy. Instead, spend your dollars, time, and energy focusing on improving operations and your company’s image (example: post pictures of your staff at work on Facebook and Twitter for transparency).
During Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous visit to the East Coast, American Apparel offered 20% off for 36 hours for those states affected by the hurricane. Of course, many people didn’t have electricity and many even lost their homes. So, angry people took to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to complain about American Apparel’s insensitivity.
How to Avoid American Apparel’s Fate: While it’s great to take advantage of opportunities to promote your brand, think long and hard about whether or not your promotion idea will actually hurt the company. The promotion should match the event (i.e. the holidays, a hurricane, the election) and should be sensitive to people’s feelings. Instead of offering a discount on their products, American Apparel would have done well to offer the proceeds of their sales over those 36 hours to disaster relief.
Back in September, one of the employees that manages the Microsoft Twitter account mistakenly posted a politically charged tweet from the Microsoft account instead of from his personal account. Microsoft’s Twitter replied to a tweet from former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich with the following post: “@RBReich your granddaughter’s level of discourse and policy > those of Ann Coulter.” Of course, there was immediate backlash from conservatives that support Ann Coulter.
How to Avoid Microsoft’s Fate: Mistakes happen. But, as much as possible, your company should put procedures in place to avoid mistakes like Microsoft’s. Do not allow employees to sign into their personal Twitter from office computers or devices. Make sure that there is a hierarchy – someone needs to review a post before it goes live. And, educate your employees. Tell them about Microsoft and other brands that made mistakes so that they are more careful and conscious when they are posting on behalf of the brand.
American Rifleman (NRA)
Possibly one of the most unfortunate social media snafus of 2012 was a scheduled tweet from American Rifleman (a magazine associated with the NRA). The morning after the tragic shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Night Rises in an Aurora, CO movie theater, the American Rifleman posted this tweet: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” The tweet was apparently scheduled through Hootsuite. The tweet struck a nerve across almost every social media site, prompting the magazine to delete the tweet and then, later that day, to delete the account altogether.
How to Avoid American Rifleman’s Fate: While scheduling posts is convenient and ensures a steady stream of content, it also requires monitoring, especially for brands with potentially sensitive updates. American Rifleman’s mistake was not checking their Hootsuite account after the shooting to make sure that none of their posts could be construed as insensitive or offensive. By all means, schedule social media posts. But, make sure to be apprised of major national events (or even local ones) and to adjust your posts accordingly.
Be careful who your company associates with. Macy’s learned the hard way that you don’t have to do anything yourself to receive backlash – someone you endorse or work with just has to. After Donald Trump offered $5 million for President Obama’s college records and passport application as a publicity stunt, more than 500,000 people signed an online petition demanding that Macy’s sever its relationship with the business mogul.
How to Avoid Macy’s Fate: Don’t endorse or work with people that take controversial stances, unless that controversial stance will actually help your business. For example, it is perfectly acceptable and actually helped the NRA to work with Charlton Heston. But, Macy’s is a department store and is supposed to be a politically neutral and non-offensive brand. They aren’t marketing to one subsection of the political population, but rather to the entire country as a whole. Their mistake was to work with someone that causes mass controversy, when controversy can only hurt their brand.
Entry Filed under: Social Media Marketing San Diego
The Networker is the best bi-monthly listing of San Diego marketing events. Sign up today.