How to Avoid a Social Media Fiasco

In 2014 Professor Kane attended a session at the South by Southwest conference entitled “Tomorrow is Another Day: Surviving a Social Media Crisis.” He said it was one of the most valuable sessions he listened to and luckily this week group A got to read some of the highlights.

  1. Do not try to capitalize on catastrophic events.

 When something is trending on twitter it can be very tempting for a company to jump into the conversation. However, as we learned last Monday from Lindsay Sutton and Melanie Nayer from Digitas companies should only get involved in the conversation if it is relevant to their brand.

An example of a company that didn’t learn this lesson soon enough was American Apparel who celebrated July Fourth by posting a photo of the Challenger explosion with the hashtags #clouds #smoke on their Tumblr page. They later apologized and stated that their “international social media employees” were born after the incident and therefore did not recognize the photograph and mistook it for fireworks.

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  1. Plan Ahead for Social Media Fiascos.

 Companies create plans for fire, earthquakes, and natural disasters, so they should develop a plan for social media emergencies. While companies may not be able to predict what video is going to go viral or getting their twitter hacked, they can imagine everyday situations and plan for them. For example, on giving Tuesday Boston College planned to ask donors for money that would go towards scholarships. While they hoped that the campaign would receive a positive response they drafted social media replies in case people were upset that BC was asking them for donations.

Professor Kane says that planning for a crisis requires that companies identify a key decision maker who is able to act during a crisis. The company should have that individual’s mobile and home numbers so they can be reached at any time of the day. When it comes to social media it is crucial that companies respond in a timely manner, 12 hours later may be 12 hours too late.

  1. Train Employees to Use Social Media in the Context of Your Business.

Managers cannot assume that their employees know how to properly use social media or that they will use social media appropriately. Your employees are your brand ambassadors and companies need to ensure that what employees are saying is consistent with their company’s culture. For example, an employee at KitchenAid mistakenly tweeted on the company’s twitter account that Obama’s grandmother died right before he became president because she knew how bad his first term would be. The employee was fired, but it would have been easier to avoid this disaster by properly training the employee as opposed to responding to the PR nightmare.

  1. Recognize that the World is Eagerly Waiting For You to Make a Mistake.

 Think about Justine Sacco. She only had170 followers and still had her life destroyed by what she posted on social media. If one person with so few followers can have their slip up discussed so publically it’s much easier for consumers to see when a company makes a mistake. The SXSW panelists agreed that companies with engaging social media presences are more likely to be forgiven when they make a mistake.

An example of a company that made a string of social media mistakes is Delta. During the 2014 World Cup championship match they congratulated Ghana on their win by tweeting a photograph of a giraffe. However, users quickly pointed out that there are no giraffes in Ghana. Delta tried to quickly bounce back from the mistake, but made it worse when they referred to their “precious” tweet as opposed to their “previous” tweet. While this wasn’t a huge fiasco it does demonstrate that there is always someone out there hoping to find a flaw in what companies are posting.

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  1. Remember that Fiascos can also Present Opportunities.

 By effectively handling a social media crisis companies can help their brand. For example, when an employee accidentally tweeted about getting drunk on the Red Cross social media account the Red Cross responded within an hour and were able to recover from the incident without it blowing up.

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6 comments

  1. It was great reading your examples relative to the key takeaways from 2014 SXSW. I’m not exactly sure that Red Cross’s recovery was exactly an opportunity for brand promotion, considering they needed to cover up a pretty questionable tweet. I guess it was a chance for them to level with other individuals about drinking and such… risky but it seemed to work! Your other examples painted a very relevant picture. Thanks for the summary! :)

  2. Great post! Unfortunately I did not have the pleasure of reading this article, but you did a great job outlining what happend and bringing in connections from class. You brought up a really interesting point in talking about the tweet involving the Challenger tragedy. Should firms include an additional screen in their social media team tweets? I wish there was a way to quantify in a dollar amount how much a tweet hurts or helps you. Unfortunately that involves the “Swim Lanes” predicament, where you can not pinpoint how a consumer found out about a certain product or service. There are mobile ads, tv ads, radio ads, etc. and it is almost impossible to quantify how much revenue a tweet brought in. Also, I thought about if firms will be reluctant to hire younger people to their social media team due to lack of historical knowledge. Just an interesting aside. One thing I never thought about was having a plan for your social media strategy. It was interesting for you to analogize plans for fires, earthquakes, etc. and compare it to social media. In my mind I just find it really hard to try to think of different situations, but I think it would be an interesting job. In reading the case study with Sony I was really interested in knowing whether Sony sat down after the Chris Brown incident and started hammering out a game plan if they stick with him or let him go. Also, I wonder if they made a plan for if anything else came up or defenses for him. Great post!

  3. Nice summary. I left that session thinking that much of what they presented sounded like common sense, but then I was shocked at how often companies had (and still do) make those same mistakes over and over.

  4. Great summary! I found really interesting how the takeaways or steps to follow are both, really obvious but really difficult to do correctly. I’m sure there are a lot of professionals dealing with this kind of problems in the social media. But some of them still mess up sometimes. It’s not easy to be proactive, but also try to take advantage of new opportunities. Some of the takeaways seem to be contradictory in a way, to the others. There is no exact science in social media or the internet in general. If it was easy, everyone following some apparently easy steps, would be successful in the social media. Good post!

  5. I enjoyed this post, and I cringed reading a few of those examples you shared, because I can’t imagine tweeting some of those tweets people tweeted, even if it was my personal account! But, people like that do exist, as you showed us, so this guide still needs to be out there. I liked all the tips and advice, especially about planning ahead. I took a PR crisis management course in school, and we were taught to always have a plan of action should X, Y or Z happen. 9 out of 10 times, nothing ever happened, and you did all that planning for nothing, but for that one time that something does happen, you’ll be glad you had a plan!

  6. Your summary of this article was great, and I also appreciated how you incorporated some of your own analysis and ideas. The possibility that brands could be destroyed simply because of an occurrence on social media is somewhat scary. Like Ronson said in his TED Talk, social media gave a voice to voiceless people but now we’re creating a surveillance society where it is becoming more challenging to find the safe space. Ensuring that employees know what is appropriate and how to handle situations quickly and effectively is the way to prevent this “surveillance society” from overcoming the benefits of using social media. Reading Ashley’s comment above, it’s interesting that schools offer courses that teach about PR crises! While reading this article, I also thought about the presenters from Digitas and how they described that capitalizing on a social media fiasco that does not relate to your brand can in fact be harmful (fees, destroyed reputation, angered customers). Learning about how to handle crises in courses before entering a job where that is your responsibility could be key in being prepared.

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