With the fast-paced world of social media, I do believe that there is such as a thing as bad publicity.
Here's proof that we need to think before we tweet:
- McDonald's Hashtag Train Wreck: #McDStoriesFast food giant McDonalds must have paid advertising executives tons of money to come up with its January 2012 hashtag campaign.The first one, #MeetTheFarmers, was a great idea.The next one -- #McDStories –- was a publicity nightmare.#MeetTheFarmers profiled three farmers and the #McDStories hashtag was supposed to focus on McDonald's suppliers. Allegedly, only two official tweets were posted.
Instead, people flooded Twitter with bitter stories of bad food, poor service and awful experiences using the #McDStories. Within a week, the story had been picked up by major news publications, including Mashable and Huffington Post and the McDonald's stock price dropped.
There are people still tweeting their #McDStories a year later.
- KitchenAid's Inappropriate Presidential TweetA KitchenAid employee "mistakenly" joked on Twitter from the company account about the President’s grandmother, who had just died three days earlier.Cynthia Soledad, senior director of KitchenAid brand and marketing, quickly took control of the company account and tweeted an apology.Their attempts at damage control wasn't enough for news agencies or from disgusted readers (both Republicans and Democrats). Mashable noted that from reader reactions the fiasco seemed to "benefit KitchenAid's rivals, Breville and Cuisinart".
- Starbucks: Irish vs. BritishStarbucks managed to inadvertently fan the flames of hundreds of years of Anglo-Irish hostilities with one tactless tweet.Starbucks Ireland "accidentally" posted a tweet meant for Starbucks UK, asking why they were proud to be British during the Queen's Diamond Julbilee celebration.
Twitter isn't the only social media site with mistakes. Facebook has had its share of companies' negative publicity too.
- Ryanair CEO RudenessSometimes, it's not what a company itself posts on Facebook, but what others say about it. Suzy McLeod, a young mother, posted on Facebook to report an incident that left her out of pocket –- and her post got 383,399 "likes" in support.
The company reportedly refused to rescind the charges. Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's CEO, made the situation worse when he called passengers who don't print out their boarding passes "idiots" and reportedly told McLeod: "It's your f**k-up."
- An Unwelcome Birthday SurpriseIt isn't just businesses that can goof online. One of the biggest causes of social "disasters" on both Facebook and Twitter occur when people don’t understand or check their settings or when they post private things as public information.Merthe Weusthuis, a teenage Dutch girl, meant to invite thirty friends to her Sweet Sixteen party through Facebook's Events. Instead, she accidentally invited the whole country. Thirty-thousand people RSVP'd yes before she could delete the event.
The Telegraph reported, "an unauthorized campaign was launched to promote the birthday party, reaching high levels of sophistication with the setting-up of a website, as well as a Twitter account which received hundreds of thousands of hits."
The evening of the supposed party, 5000 party-goers showed up in Weusthuis's hometown, and 34 people were arrested for vandalizing and looting.
Lessons for Small Businesses
So what has this small collection of 2012 blunders –- the tip of the social disaster iceberg -- taught us about how to post with credibility and care?
- Proofread and think about future implications before posting. Will this be taken the wrong way?
- When choosing a hashtag, make sure it adds value versus just jumping on the bandwagon on a trending topic.
- I f you do make a mistake, accept full responsibility and quickly apologize. Don’t delete your Page. Fix the problem immediately instead.
- Consider if deleting your post will create more problems or stop them.
- Make it a policy for your employees or social media managers to not use your software (like Hootsuite or Sendible) for their personal accounts.
- Never create publicity stunts. Post with integrity and honesty.
This might all sound scary... don't let it stop you from making a difference in the world and sharing your message!
After all, as P. T. Barnum also shrewdly pointed out: