Social media has brought companies closer to the public than ever before. In some ways this is a good thing for brands, who can now respond individually to customers, but this does raise the possibility of something going wrong. I’m talking about social media disasters. When this does occur, and it has a lot, the public receive a full display of a professional business looking very stupid. This can be a vicarious thrill for thousands of customers, who will gleefully retweet a brand’s apparent idiocy on a global scale. Obviously, this is bad for business.
It happened a lot last year, and it’s going to happen again in 2013. Indeed, it has been happening merely three months into the New Year. So here are the worst offenders, and a guide on how avoid this dreadful fate.
Hackers Stun Burger King
McDonald’s had a number of social media disasters last year, but in early 2013 it was the turn for Burger King to face remarkable ignominy. Hackers breached the official Burger King account on February 18th and promptly changed the firm’s header and profile pictures to rival’s McDonald’s! They then busied themselves with posting about the latter fast food chain, whilst insinuating narcotic abuse was rife within the firm, as well as suggesting McDonald’s had just bought the Burger King brand. This went on for numerous hours until, finally, Twitter was able to wrest control of the account off the hackers before returning it to Burger King. McDonald’s tweeted their lack of involvement in the incident.
Despite the embarrassment, Burger King suddenly found they had jumped in followers by some 30,000!
So it’s not all bad news.
Disgruntled Staff Deride HMV
HMV have, very sadly, been in the wars a lot lately. The entertainment firm has been unable to fend off the recession, and this means they have had to effectively shut down. As staff began to be laid off, one went rogue and hacked into the official HMV twitter account. Instead of turning this into a profane rant, the staff member, thankfully, simply bemoaned the brand’s fate and wished everyone a fond farewell.
Although HMV removed the tweets many of them had gone viral. All the same the company apologised, “One of our departing colleagues was understandably upset. We’re still here thou, thx for supporting hmv thro these challenging times.”
In early March the pizza outlet made a series of announcements which hinted at a “game changing” development for their menu and company. Teaser trailers were launched to drum up excitement, and CEO Don Meij made the big news declaration himself!
And then everyone realised this wasn’t as grand as had been expected; all they were offering was a new range of pizza toppings. Fans immediately took to social media networks to deride the company. As the example from the comments section on YouTube shows, they were not at all impressed.
The reaction may have surprised Domino’s as they hadn’t essentially done anything wrong, but in their enthusiasm they appear to have not realised they were being comically, and confusingly, flamboyant with their marketing approach.
Automated Airline Replies
If you think installing time saving auto-replies to your company’s personal Twitter account is a good idea, then heed the results of American Airlines’ effort.
After receiving some vitriolic abuse the firm’s automated system sent a delighted reply, thusly showing their laziness with customers. Soon many more were taking their opportunity to offload stress onto the firm, only to receive unusually merry responses. Their lesson has since been learnt.
Do Not Mix Business with Natural Disasters
This has happened several times over the last few years and some firms are just not able to understand it’s not appropriate. At all. SellItOnline decided to promote their services by offering free generators to fend off Australia’s bush fires. The more “likes” they received, the more they would send to help
The response from the public was one of outrage, with profanity and accusations of immorality fired at the Australian company. Their public image, unsurprisingly, has struggled to recover since.
Applebee’s Slowly Implodes… as Facebook Watches
In February 2013, after a waitress from Applebee’s posted a customer’s critical receipt on Reddit, the fim fired an employee for a breach in customer privacy. And then everything turned into, as was termed by the media, a “social media meltdown”. As the company’s Facebook page was bombarded with angry people ranting about the injustice of it all, so Applebee’s attempted to respond to each query in an attempt to quell the ever expanding outrage; cutting and pasting their company policy into responses only infuriated the public further, the corporate spiel glossing over the real issues. Finally the firm, exasperated, disabled users posts on their wall. This was followed by the posting of their corporate statement indicating Applebee’s standing, but by now over 2,000 vitriolic messages had been launched. The damage was done, and it wasn’t going anywhere. In a final attempt to win sympathy the firm apologised.
The issue is far from over. There are online petitions and boycotts in action and Applebee’s will no doubt feel the fiscal crunch of their take on social media.
Be Calm and Avoid the Disaster
I can, luckily, use my experience to hopefully guide you away from similar gaffes. As manager of my company’s social media accounts it’s my job to oversee our output; obviously the pressure isn’t as high in a small business, but it’s worth noting some techniques to keep your business disaster free.
The other firm’s mistakes here may appear somewhat easy to avoid now, but this is thanks to the glorious benefit of hindsight. There’s always the potential to make an innocent mistake which can explode into a chaotic aftermath, particularly if you rush into a new campaign. There are no apps for managing this situation, just use common sense and promote what your company does best. Being greedy, arrogant, hypocritical, lazy, or launching an ill-advised new campaign can easily land you in trouble. Perhaps take the precaution of always asking for a second (or third) opinion before launching a new campaign, or a difficult Tweet. Getting carried away on your initiative can be a problem, so hold back and trust other people’s advice.
Perhaps start a social media strategy to keep things organised and sensible, track all of your statistics so you know how many people are following and talking about you, and maybe limit the amount of social media networks you are on. Only a few are likely to be truly popular, so keep your best work for those.
The one thing I can recommend, however, is to regularly change your passwords. Make new ones reasonably complex whilst you’re at it -– throw a few numbers in there and arbitrary letters! It may seem tedious but anything’s better than logging onto your Twitter page to find Ronald McDonald gazing back ecstatically at you.