What Ten Social Media Disasters Taught Us in 2011
We stand alone in the animal kingdom by our ability to learn through inference. That, beyond anything else, is what makes us special. It is by inferring something that we have to put to full use the processing ability of our frontal lobes, pull on memories, exercise imagination, create hypothesis and piece together scenarios which allow us to learn to avoid danger and be successful.
I imagine our cave-dwelling ancestors, sitting by the fire, traded stories of successful hunts, both their own and those of others, and spoke of the cases when the hunt did not quite go the hunter’s way, enabling them, in the process, to learn to avoid pitfalls.
We are a little removed from that scenario when hunting boar or tiger was our main means of survival, but the ability to infer things has stayed with us and, if anything, has only improved with time. The year that’s almost gone was rich in social media stories which shed more blood on the social media floor than we can almost comfortably stomach. It was also a year when, hopefully, valuable lessons were learnt, when social media became a means of communication which suddenly demanded respect by companies, brands and individuals, buy the sheer stint of it being able to produce a PR disaster, and when we, hopefully, learnt some valuable lessons we can apply to our own social media practices.
Over the last two weeks I spent some time going through my case studies and compiling a short video on the social media disasters of 2011. What is important here however is what we can take home from the tale of their shortfall. The list below is not definitive, but it is defining, offering ten very public cases, each of which taught a valuable lesson.
1. New Media Strategies. Their loss of the Chrysler account on the basis of one unguarded Tweet drove home the need for clear guidelines in social media marketing.
2. Qwikster. Also known as the Netflix PR disaster, it taught us to consider social media as an integral part of marketing rather than an afterthought.
3. Qantas. The PR disaster faced this year by Australia’s favourite airline when it launched a Twitter competition at the same time that a union dispute was going on, on the ground, proved that when it comes to social media timing is everything and online and offline are different sides of the same coin and cannot be seaparated.
4. Bob Parsons. The unfortunate predilection of GoDaddy’s colourful CEO for elephant hunting, when made public, placed him and his company in hot water and made us all realise that a CEO’s conduct, even when it is not business related, can really damage the company brand.
5. Unilever. The backfiring of Ragu’s social media campaign which led to “Ragu Hates Dads” to trend on Tweeter showed clearly that traditional marketing techniques do not work in social media and that social media is not another mass broadcast channel.
6. Kenneth Cole. The unfortunate Tweet about the Cairo riots and the company’s show collection, at a time when protesters were dying in Egypt, created a massive backlash for the show retailer. Fortunately, the company moved quickly to contain the damage and apologise. Its predicament taught the lesson that social media is a mass communication channel that cuts across many demographics and that it requires awareness and sensitivity, to use.
7. Anthony Weiner. Whose unfortunate act of Tweeting a pic of a part of his anatomy which matches his surname, to a Texan single mum, cost him his seat in Congress after 12 years in Office. Weiner’s plight taught us that social media, however it may be used, is not a private communication channel.
8. Virgin America. The company’s unexpected mishandling of a crisis regarding its booking system, created a PR disaster which tarnished its image and cost it customers. We learnt that traditional PR stonewalling does not work in social media.
9. PayPal. PayPal’s incredibly insensitive mishandling of the Regretsy case, put it in top running for the ‘Grinch’ award, not only because of the timing of its social media gaffe but also for the hard-to-explain interpretation of a ‘worthy cause’ from the company’s point of view. It drove the point home that standard corporate anonymity no longer affords protection to a company. Social media is making everyone accountable.
10. Blackberry. RIM, the Canadian owner of the Blackberry brand, has become a poster child for social media fails because they got it so spectacularly wrong on so many fronts and, they continued to get it wrong. Its plight taught us that when a company fails to ‘get’ social media, its misuse can have serious repercussions from which a brand may never recover.
We are about to get into an exciting year ahead, when social media will play a central role in the development of fresh approaches to marketing and communication. The shortlist of disasters above is indicative of the need for careful thought and planning and a testament to the shortness of human memory, when lessons learnt so painfully, in the past, are forgotten so easily the moment we enter a new medium.
The nature of business is so complex that I am willing to bet it is unlikely we will see the end of social media disasters. But, as each disaster, becomes a learning point, we should start to see improvements in the way business approaches social media and the way social media is used by brands.
David Amerland's latest book is "Google Semantic Search: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques That Gets Your Company More Traffic, Increases Brand Impact and Amplifies Your Online Presence" which is available to pre-order on Amazon. He is the author of: 'The Social Media Mind: How social media is changing business, politics and science and helps create a new world order' details how to ...
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