Big brands have long ruled in traditional media, but in social media, it’s a different story. Many came to the internet late and are still figuring out the best practices for brand relations and reputation management. As a result, a number of brands have made some pretty big flubs. A few of the times when brands messed up by not understanding how social media works:
1. Heinz sends fans to a scandalous site.
Brands are always looking for new ways to join digital and traditional marketing channels. Heinz delved into this area through a QR Code contest that would take users to a site where they could enter their details. However, Heinz failed to renew their domain, and it was quickly snapped up by a German porn site. The condiment giant was forced to apologize.
How to avoid this issue: While the internet is ephemeral, the brick and mortar world is not. If you are going to put a piece of marketing collateral out there, make sure that all the digital pieces are still in place.
2. DiGiorno Pizza inadvertently condones domestic violence when food’s involved.
After Janay Palmer Rice chose not to leave NFL player husband Ray Rice despite allegations of domestic violence in 2014, Twitter lit up with women sharing their stories about staying in relationships that were abusive. The conversation’s tag #WhyIStayed quickly began trending.
DiGiorno attempted to join the conversation with the tweet: “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” This did not go over well. While the inappropriate tweet was deleted within minutes, many people managed to take and reshare screen shots before it was gone.
While this was a big flub, DiGiorno also made big efforts to make up for it. In addition to a blanket apology post from their Twitter account, DiGiorno sent dozens of personal replies to those who expressed offense at the original tweet. Whether a crisis consultant helped out or if the effort was entirely internal, they made amends and avoided disaster.
How to avoid this problem: See a trending hashtag? Before you jump on board, find out what the topic really means.
3. JPMorgan learns what a #TwitterTakeover really entails (with Sea World bonus).
In an effort to get closer to their customers and prospects in late 2013, JPMorgan took to Twitter with the hashtag #AskJPM for what they described as a #TwitterTakeover. Twitter users who tweeted questions using the #AskJPM hashtag would have them answered by Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee. As readers can probably predict (but the bank did not) the stream was quickly filled with tweets about illegal foreclosures and misbehavior during the mortgage crisis. The Q&A session was ended quickly.
While JPMorgan might have learned from their flub, other brands were not hip to the lesson. 2015 saw SeaWorld trying to rehabilitate their image in the wake of the critical documentary Blackfish. They held a Q&A under the hashtag #AskSeaWorld. Like the previous session with a controversial brand, this hashtag was attached to many negative tweets. Making matters worse, Sea World responded by calling negative posters trolls.
How to avoid this problem: As any crisis management professional could tell you, a public Q&A is not a good idea soon after a public relations scandal. You do not control what is posted on a third party platform and you may not like the results. If you feel you must engage in two-way communication, a closed forum where you select what shows up might be a better pick. And, no matter what your critics say, do not respond with insults.
4. MTV Australia makes a racist joke.
During the 2016 Golden Globes, MTV Australia’s social media manager severely misjudged the room (read: the world) and made a joke about being unable to understand America Ferrera’s and Eva Longoria’s accents. Backlash was immediate and the music channel quickly apologized.
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How to avoid this problem: Edgy humor has its place. But, if you want to make a risky joke, keep this in mind: punch up. While each actress is arguably in a position of power, there are many who share their histories who are not. Modern communication requires sensitivity, even when you are going for a laugh.
5. Texas mattress seller attempts a “Twin Towers” themed 9/11 sale.
Most people know instinctively that a sale tied to the anniversary of the deadliest foreign attack on U.S. is not going to go over well. Unfortunately, this was not true of San Antonio mattress purveyor Miracle Mattress, who used a Facebook video ad to tout their 9/11 sale, complete with a “Twin Towers” promotion offering any mattress in the store for the price of a twin.
To the surprise of absolutely no one except the mattress store owners and employees, this ad was not taken well. After severe backlash, the store pulled the ad and replaced it with an apology letter.
How to avoid this problem: Think twice about any strategy that makes light of a tragedy. And, remember that social media channels are places where backlash is immediate. Examples from the mattress commercial above to Gilbert Godfrey losing an insurance gig due to distasteful jokes about the tsunami in Japan show that people will react negatively and it can cost your business.
The good news is, most businesses recover from their social media gaffs. They come out wiser after a crash course in crisis communications. Worried about what you’d do if your social media team suffered a serious misstep? A skilled crisis communications consultant can help you learn the right ways to react to make your social media slip ups less serious.
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