As 2013 comes to a close, it’s been a banner year for social media failures, which are widely undiscriminating and damaging to their perpetrators. Social media’s evolving reach is enticing an increasing number of businesses and executives, however, even those who should be savvy with the medium, understanding it’s potentially damaging power, are often getting bruised by lapses in judgment and lack of control.
Along with the increasing number of corporate social media failures is an array of lessons for enterprises. These lessons provide valuable insight into communicating with and listening to the market to help effectively build and protect brands.
Here are a look at some of the bigger social media failures of 2013 and their corresponding lessons.
A Failure to Communicate
On Friday, December 20, 2013, IAC’s head of corporate communications, Justine Sacco, had a complete failure when she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!,” just prior to boarding a flight to South Africa. The tweet set off a social firestorm ultimately resulting in her firing by IAC, saying, “This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC.” Sacco issued an apology and subsequently deleted her Twitter account.
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The Shocker: What’s particularly shocking is that Ms. Sacco’s entire job revolves around managing communications, which she completely failed at in this case. Furthermore, she opted to violate a major PR rule of making comment during a period where she had no ability to monitor or respond to the reaction, namely being on an international flight. Aside from all this, what may be most surprising is that this did not appear to be an isolated mis-tweet. Previously she posted, “I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night.”
The Lesson: Understand that social media is like an open press conference microphone and treat it as such. Deliberately think about what is said. Expect reaction to whatever is said and be prepared and positioned to respond quickly.
Bank On It
On November 13, 2013 J.P. Morgan opted to embrace social media by hosting a Twitter Q&A with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee, using the hashtag #AskJPM. The hashtag was overrun with aggressive and critical comments against J.P. Morgan. As a response the bank quickly opted to cancel the Q&A session.
The Shocker: What was most surprising was the bank’s apparent ignorance of the critical backlash that can come on social media. This was particularly shocking given J.P. Morgan’s recent $13 billion mortgage settlement to the government. This approach seems to be a common theme among many large companies who feel they can control the social medium as if it is a traditional television or radio interview.
The Lesson: Know your audience and understand the sentiment the market has towards your company and offerings prior to engaging in these types of events. Regardless, don’t be surprised by negative reaction and have a plan to respond.
On April 13, 2013, food site Epicurious thought it would be appropriate to provide recipes “in honor” of the city of Boston, which had suffered tragic bombings during the Boston Marathon. The posts, clearly attempting to exploit the tragedy with “relevant content,” ended up generating a massive response from upset individuals across the social universe.
The Shocker: What was most surprising is that Epicurious didn’t seem learn anything from previous missteps of companies like Gap, Urban Outfitters and Sears, among others, that attempted to exploit Hurricane Sandy, using the disaster to promote their products. The rapid, insensitive response from Epicurious, along with positioning it as “honoring” the city was shocking to most who read it.
The Lesson: Consider the content and appropriateness of your communications before hitting the “post” button and understand and learn the lessons from those companies who have suffered social missteps before.
On February 18, 2013 Burger King lost control of their Twitter account, which was rebranded to rival McDonald’s and declared that the company had sold to their competitor. The perpetrator also posted vulgarities and drug references, resulting in thousands of retweets.
The Shocker: While surprising that Burger King lost control of their Twitter account through what seemed to be weak password security practices, it was completely shocking that the company took hours for it to even realize their Twitter property had been brandjacked to respond, while millions of consumers has a front row seat.
The Lesson: Be diligent in protecting social accounts as they are a direct and powerful link to a company’s brand. Beyond this, monitor social activity on brand accounts continuously to identify and react to emerging issues.
In September 5, 2013 Chobani announced a voluntary recall of their product which contained mold. The issue for Chobani was not initially about what they said on social media, but rather their failure to listen to their consumers on social channels. If Chobani had been listening to consumer conversations around their product they could have presumably found customers complaining of product issues and related illnesses two weeks earlier. Yet, when consumers initially took to Facebook inquiring about their issues, Chobani’s response focused on replacing the spoiled product rather than answer questions like the type of mold present in the yogurt.
The Shocker: Unfortunately, despite the crisis, the company indicates reluctance to make the necessary changes to avoid this sort of issue in the future. As Chobani stated, “[Social media is] not a marketing vehicle, it’s an engagement vehicle, a two-way conversation…we wouldn’t change that model or put it under the finance function or the risk function.
The Lesson: While most companies see the value of broadcasting communications across social media, there is often greater power from understanding consumers and identifying issues by listening to social channels. Listening in this manner allows companies to identify opportunities and avoid emerging threats.
There is little doubt 2014 will see even more social media fails for businesses and executives, however, learning the lessons from these missteps will better serve companies and ultimately consumers in the long run. Listening and learning is a primary key in social success for enterprises and brands.