What the biggest social media blunders have taught us

These events may be so 2011, but could happen again tomorrow—or today. Consider yourself warned.

Advertising Age chronicled the top social media blunders of 2011. The list is entertaining and disheartening. Entertaining because of the shenanigans and idiotic social media mistakes committed by some very smart people. And, disheartening because businesses considering social media may unduly focus on the blunders and ignore the benefits.

I’ll take a moment to speculate “why” the blunders happened and how businesses can learn from their less fortunate brethren’s mistakes.

Dropping the “F” bomb

The blunder: A New Media Strategies employee mistakenly skewered Detroit drivers from the @ChryslerAutos Twitter account. Although the tweet was caught and deleted within minutes, the damage to a career and a high-prestige social media account was done. New Media Strategies fired the employee and Chrysler fired New Media Strategies.

Why it happened: The scuttlebutt is that this employee managed his personal and client accounts with the same Twitter management tool. A small lapse in attention easily took his personal tweet and broadcasted it to the world.

Suggestion: Set a firm policy that personal tweeting should not happen from a company sponsored and administered tool like Hootsuite. Since a mis-tweet could be dire, companies should consider restricting tweeting from company computers.

Kenneth Cole and the Arab Spring

The blunder: Kenneth Cole jumped on the Arab Spring news story with a less than elegant tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo, Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online”

Why it happened: Creativity got in the way of common sense. Politics, religion, and um… revolution are incendiary topics that should be handled with care.

Suggestion: The same conversation rules that work at the bar and family dinners should be applied here. Provocative advertising can get you attention, but ultimately can backfire. Since the risk is often disproportionate to the benefit, it’s better to dig a little deeper for a social play that has more legs and less risk.

Quantas and #QuantasLuxury

The blunder: Bad luck and horrible timing led to the launch of a Twitter contest that asked followers to detail their dream luxury in flight experience. The problem was union talks broke down the day before and customers were still upset about a fleet shutdown that disrupted travel plans for thousands.

Why it happened: Operations, customer service, marketing, and social media weren’t talking. An open-eyed review of social sentiment and actual conversations would have given the social team a heads-up that they were poking a hornet’s nest.

Suggestion: Invest in a social media monitoring tool that gives real-time and accurate reports on what your community is saying about your brand. Any major social initiative should have a checklist that polls customer service and operation.

A face full of tomato sauce

The blunder: The folks at Ragu stepped in it when they tried to joke about dads’ lack of kitchen expertise. Ragu’s mistake was creating a video with moms spouting off about their kitchen-illiterate husbands. It was not funny and the dads blogged en masse about Ragu’s faux pas.

Why it happened: The problem is that Ragu missed a growing movement of dads who are kitchen, diaper, laundry, and bedtime story ninjas. The social Web is packed with lifestyle-based interest groups. A simple search would have uncovered the CC Chapman’s of the world and averted the PR misstep.

Suggestion: Use social networks to monitor the pulse of your customers. A simple poll on Facebook can offer clues to how a marketing campaign, new product launch or price change could be perceived. And that leads us to…

Netflix and Qwikster

The blunder: Netflix decided to raise its prices without talking to its customers first. Then they confused everyone by spinning off its DVD rental into another brand, Qwikster, but failed to secure the Twitter username @Qwikster. The Twitter handle was scooped up by someone who had a talent for bashing Netflix. The cost of this particular blunder was 800,000 lost subscribers, or $192 million in $20/month subscriber fees.

Why it happened: Netflix is a savvy online player. It forgot it had an open channel to poll its most fanatic subscribers. Simply asking them how they would react to the changes would have revealed the gaping holes in its strategy. Ignoring these people created a firestorm that couldn’t be contained.

Suggestion: Remember that “dialogue” is a competitive weapon. Facebook and Twitter are free to use and incredibly valuable for gathering opinions and soliciting support for company initiatives. It’s a good idea to add “social focus groups” to the traditional customer research done before the roll-out of any new product or service.

Five more examples

Advertising Age did a terrific job at compiling and profiling these blunders. Read five more here.

Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass.

A version of this article first appeared on grow.

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