3 social media horror stories

The handling in each case makes the difference between quenching a PR firestorm and fueling it.

While kiddies were thinking about candy and costumes and spooky houses they’d visit on Halloween, business people were conjuring a different idea of what’s truly scary—especially PR and marketing professionals who are watching social media speed up the reaction time of their customers to light speed. How can we keep up? For your reading pleasure, here are a few horror stories and near misses from businesses around the world. Citibank Frank Eliason, a SVP at Citibank, is no stranger to the media. When Occupy Wall Street protesters heard that Citibank staff had called 911 when their fellow protesters entered a branch in New York and the word flooded social media that people were being arrested, he went into action. He didn’t waste time gathering as much data and content as possible so people could get a better picture. Sure, there was the video of protesters being arrested, prevented from leaving the building, but there was also video from inside the building that showed the protesters disrupting business, not canceling accounts, but asking for support from the staff. Now Frank was on his way to speak at PivotCom, where he might expect tough questions about leaving his office—at a critical time—to attend the conference. He opened his talk with the video of the arrests followed by the video of what actually had prompted the staff to call 911. The lesson? By doing this, Frank reached thousands of people through Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, and several blogs, more than the Occupy Wall Street folks because of his own network combined with the powerful network connections at Pivotcom. Leveraging social media to deliver the whole story while showing such transparency is always best. Ragu The Ragu sauce brand thought it safely could take a poke at dads’ apparent ineptitude at cooking dinner for the kids, and many years ago that might have been so. With today’s social media savvy dads—many working from home or choosing to care for the family—it just wasn’t very smart to launch a “Dad Cooks Dinner” video channel. Needless to say, dads didn’t think it was funny.

Then somebody at Ragu got the bright idea of reaching out to some Dads on Twitter, notably C.C. Chapman, a blogger and social media celeb who is also known as a “Digital Dad.” C.C. went on a pretty good rant on the subject. Of course, other social media people picked up the flag and ran with it, although not all took his side, including the mommy bloggers who gave their opinions in the video. I brought it up in a panel on social media for brands at OMMA Social in San Francisco last week. In the end, C.C. decided to make his own sauce, showing that yes, dads can cook, too. He even offered a little social media advice for the folks at Ragu, just in case they were paying attention. It’s good advice. Click the link, and read it. It doesn’t look like Ragu did, though. What did Ragu do? Eventually it called C.C. to talk to him, but the company’s initial reaction was to stick its head in the sand. The videos are still up, showing they either decided to ignore the whole mess, or they really just don’t care, but not before it got a little out of hand. The lesson? After being dissected in social media circles for weeks, in the end Ragu leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Why? Because they didn’t do their homework and they didn’t engage their target market in a genuine way. Rather than offering the videos up as a sauce in your face slap, they might have posted a contest that pitted both moms and dads against each other for the most innovative recipes and put a positive spin on dads in the kitchen instead. They could have reached out to dads and asked them for their secret ways to use the sauce to spice up meals instead of pitting mommy bloggers against daddy bloggers. Lastly they should have researched who they were reaching out to sop they would have a clue as to how it would be received. ChapStick Not every social media nightmare is a global disaster. A proper response can settle things down and help people to become reasonable again. But if you don’t talk to them or if you try to muffle their voices, it’s going to get ugly. Take ChapStick, for example. It posted a silly ad of a woman up-ended over her couch, hair flying, apparently looking for her long-lost tube of ChapStick on its Facebook page above the catchy title “Where do lost ChapSticks go?” Apparently the image needed to be explained, and ChapStick invited people to share their thoughts on this riveting topic on its Facebook page. OK, silly image right? No big deal right? Well, some people posted comments on the Facebook page complaining about the ad, and blogger Margot Magowan didn’t think it was funny. She blogged about it and then posted on the ChapStick Facebook page. ChapStick admins deleted the comment. Others posted their thoughts, and ChapStick deleted those, too. Then it took down the ad and replaced the picture of the girl with one of some tubes of ChapStick. Problem solved, right? Oh, no, this opened a Pandora’s box of complaints, and a user launched “Butt seriously, ChapStick” a page on Facebook where people could complain to their hearts’ content. Golly, we can hardly wait to see response to the new campaign featuring Australia’s top model with the tag line “Never let your lips go naked”…. Had they not pulled the comments down, it might have all blown over—after a simple, heartfelt apology for any offense. The lesson? Seriously. It wasn’t the ad itself; it was how it was handled. ChapStick had a great opportunity to reach out to the consumer and say something like, “Gee, we’re sorry you don’t like the ad; we didn’t mean any harm,” and call it a day. They could have made a series of images with people in equally silly situations searching desperately for lost tubes in odd places. Really, its only mistake was trying to cover it up by deleting comments. Negative comments are an opportunity to learn from your users and to let them know you are listening, to correct a negative assumption. Janet Fouts is a social media coach and senior partner at Tatu Digital Media. She blogs at JanetFouts.com, where a version of this article originally ran.

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