Top Five SMEM Lessons Learned in 2012: Social Media Gaffes are Survivable

I’ve found there is a perception that social media problems are potential career-enders. Agency heads worry that if you mess up on social media, that’s it, you can never recover. This leads to a reluctance to take chances and experiment. And given some of the horror stories out there, that’s not that an unreasonable assumption. The best example of an Internet brouhaha I’ve seen is the GAP logo redesign disaster. Why expose yourself to second-guessing or increased unwelcome attention from the crowd?

The thing is, that perception isn’t exactly true anymore. It may have been when there weren’t any rules or best practices out of there, but today, it’s just flat out not true. There have been some great examples this year of social media disasters averted, come back from, and avoided. And this is our fourth lesson learned: social media disasters aren’t the career-enders that they’ve been in the past. It’s not easy by any means, and it still might not work, but the worst can be avoided.

Let’s list some of the biggest social media blunders this past year, and think how much they’ve changed your relationship with these companies: McDonald’s #McDStories, the NRA and CelebBoutique’s post-Aurora tweets, StubHub’s Friday afternoon f-bomb, the KitchenAid Obama debate tweet?

Anything? I’m sure, if you work in crisis communications, you’ve read case stories about it, but what did they really change? I’m willing to bet not much.

There are two reasons why, I think. First, by and large, social media disasters are usually tempests in a teapot. Take a look at the GAP logo kerfluffle. The company proposed to update their logo, and released it online. The outcry was overwhelming, online. GAP quickly walked it back and shelved the idea. Afterwards, GAP did some customer research on the issue and found that most GAP customers (y’know, the people that actually shop at GAP) had never even heard of the dust-up and liked the new logo. Gerald Baron even posted on it this past year.

The second reason why is because we’ve gotten better at how do manage these situations. We, as crisis communicators, have finally figured out that social media is just another tool and our tried and true methods of a managing crisis still work. Take, for example, the KitchenAid disaster from the second Presidential debate.

Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics

So, yeah, how would that play on your agency’s account? I’m guessing not so well. And yet, KitchenAid still exists as a part of the Whirlpool mega-company. They still use Twitter. (More times per day than your agency, by the way.) How is this possible? It’s easy, they took care of the problem right away and engaged in positive, aggressive crisis communications.

Just minutes after the offensive tweet, it was deleted (hooray for media monitoring!) and an sincere apology was posted to both Facebook and Twitter by the Senior Director of KitchenAid Brand and Marketing Shared Services for Whirlpool, Cynthia Soledad (hooray for empathy, management engagement and quick turnarounds!). Ms. Soledad then spent the rest of the night responding, via Twitter, to what seemed like everyone who posted a cross word about their offensive tweet. She proactively reached out to dozens of news agencies, again via Twitter, offering the opportunity for direct and immediate response and follow-up (hooray for availability and assisting the media!). I watched, she was on there until after midnight, and that didn’t include any off-line conversations, phone calls or emails.

Let’s review what I would call a worst-case scenario. Event happens, immediate and overwhelming response, situation goes away, company/brand/agency lives on. I definitely think there’s a lesson to be learned there.


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