It’s getting a little tiring, these days, to hear yet one more large company social media disaster. First it was Netflix who could not even secure a Twitter account before they launched a new service and now it’s Blackberry whose services suffered a widespread outage in Europe. Twitter apparently got flooded by unhappy Blackberry business users making #Blackberry a trending topic on the social network site.

Yet over three hours later their tech team @BlackBerryHelp, oblivious to the social media disaster they were facing, were adding fuel to the pyre by cheerfully chirping from their account: "Hey #teamblackberry happy Monday everyone! Hope you all had a great weekend we are back to answer your questions stay tuned for answers."

The full story for those who are interested was reported here. What is important to note is that RIM, the Canadian company which markets Blackberry phones and which used to be spoken with awe amongst business users has become the third party in a two-party race between Google’s Android smartphones and the iPhone. With the stakes so high that the entire company’s survival is on the line, let alone its reputation, mistakes like this are unlikely to win it any further market share or create the impression that it is in control of its own products.

Arguably, tech disasters and outages can happen to anyone. From Amazon’s failure of its cloud computing servers to Google’s Gmail outage and Microsoft’s Hotmail blackouts the history of tech is littered with companies whose services, vital to users lives and businesses, have failed at one time or another. That is why how you handle it is crucial to your company’s continued well being. Google and Microsoft have the tech might and processes to rectify issues quickly. Blackberry should do, so keeping to a strictly Canadian time zone when it has a global clientele makes no sense, especially when the company is fighting for its life.

RIM’s misfortune however serves social marketers well when it comes to learning just what to avoid:

1. Social marketing is real time.
It provides an instant channel of communication for customers which also means that it becomes an easy way for them to vent their frustration when things do not go according to plan. If you do not have a means of tackling this the moment it breaks, hiding behind corporate  announcements which are scheduled to happen at an appointed hour is not going to fix anything.

2. Internal communications are crucial. If you want your social marketing to be part of your corporate outreach program you’d better damn make sure that those responsible for it are kept in the loop and know when things are wrong before anyone else, otherwise they just become lambs to the slaughter, demoralized, frustrated and suddenly in doubt of the very company they work for.

3. Social media marketing is about communication. You have a social media marketing campaign in place to communicate. Even if you are so corporate mentality bound that you cannot envision the possibility that international customers of your products might not want to stick to your time zone, do have a plan that really communicates with them, addressing issues and concerns that affect your products.

4. Say you’re sorry. It sounds silly but an apology works wonders. The time of the faceless corporation is so last century and today it only serves to annoy those you want to keep as customers against stiff competition. We all know that whenever a corporate façade is presented either things are really wrong and no one is admitting culpability or no one really cares – or both. Stick to outmoded models of communication and you are really missing the whole point of social media marketing and personalization.

5. Give timelines. Is there a problem? Acknowledge it and say when it’s going to be resolved. Even if the timeline is approximate communicating provides evidence that someone cares and is doing something to fix the issue.

6. Understand what you are doing. Social media marketing is about letting go of control and beginning a real dialogue whereby your customers get to know who you really are and how passionate you are about the products you are selling. That is your only hope of actually converting eyeballs, shares, ‘Likes’ and impressions into the kind of brand awareness that leads to sales.

I have said before that social media is not rocket science. This, however, does not make it easy either. In order to avoid falling into the social media trap where someone goes through the motions of using social media marketing by simply using its channels, requires a clear understanding of what you are trying to do, how, when and how you measure if it is working.

Get that wrong and you end up with the kind of social media marketing disaster that lends itself to becoming a lesson to avoid for your competitors.