17 Oct 3 Scary Social Media Horror Stories That Will Haunt Your PR Dreams
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites have proven to be immeasurably useful for connecting friends and family, driving business, and documenting history in action. If you say the wrong thing or make a mistake, however, social media can become as terrifying as a hockey-masked axe murderer stalking unsuspecting summer campers.
In the spirit of Halloween, check out these three social media horror stories and what you can learn from them.
Social media provides a way for people to share their innermost thoughts with 300,000 of their closest friends. Unfortunately, what may inspire a wink and a giggle between associates can have disastrous consequences for a business.
Case in point, James Andrews, the former vice president of a PR agency called Ketchum, tweeted what he thought was an innocuous remark about not being too impressed with a town he had just landed in.
The problem was, he was in Memphis, Tennessee—the hometown of FedEx, where he was to give a presentation about digital media.
Like all good PR disasters, someone at FedEx found the tweet and promptly took offense to it. The person wrote a six-paragraph email detailing his outrage and sent it to both FedEx’s and Ketchum’s C-level executives.
Of course, Andrews and the Ketchum management apologized profusely for the faux pas and demonstrated the obvious lesson to watch what you tweet when meeting with the company paying your six-figure paycheck.
At the same time, the incident shows how not to reply to criticism. FedEx’s heavy-handed response to an unremarkable tweet that does not name the company or the city has left some in the digital community giving the shipping giant the side-eye. Instead, the FedEx representative could have kept quiet or used the opportunity to jump on Twitter to tout the benefits of living and working in Memphis. Although it was probably satisfying to put the PR representative in his place, the response made the company come off as humorless and easily offended. The situation likely damaged FedEx’s image much more than an offhand tweet.
In short, pick your battles. If you choose to go head to head with critics in the battlefield of social media, avoid using tactics that could blow up your brand in the process.
Taste the Fail-bow
According to a survey conducted in 2014, about 88 percent of people consider online reviews to be as trustworthy as personal reviews. So you would assume that directing potential customers to a live stream of current customers talking about how awesome you are will make it rain money in your office.
In 2009, the team at Skittles apparently thought the same thing. They came up with the brilliant idea (on paper at least) to place a live stream of Twitter users talking about those delicious droplets of rainbow goodness on the home page of its website.
At first, everything was going just fine. People posted their thoughts about Skittles, and the company got to bask in the multi-hued glow of its brilliance. But, of course, things quickly derailed because… Internet. Word got around the online community that Skittles was streaming unfiltered real-time tweets about the product on its site. The online trolls clawed their way up from the fifth circle of Hades to carpet-bomb the Skittles hashtag with as many vile tweets as their gnarled pasty fingers could type.
Now, most companies would quickly shut down a social media marketing campaign that derailed the way this one did. Instead, Skittles went into beast mode and switched the link to its Facebook page and then its Wikipedia profile, Unfortunately, Facebook and Wikipedia are two other mediums that are easily trolled, though Wikipedia does have quality controls in place that quickly erase defacements.
By the end of the campaign, Skittles obtained an epic amount of notoriety. While the company appears to have recovered from the incident, it serves as a good example of why you don’t invite hockey-masked strangers to sleep-away camp. When Internet trolls are given unfettered access to digital public spaces, they promptly shut down all possibility of meaningful conversations with customers. And, while most people realize the offensive posts are written by trolls, their presence can still drag down the company’s reputation because clients may think the business doesn’t care enough about them to manage the problem.
If you’re going to have an open forum, have it on a platform where you can control the flow of content. Otherwise, you may find yourself being eaten alive by the C.H.U.D.s of the subterranean Internet.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Apologies
In this digital age, companies can’t afford NOT to have an online channel where customers can contact them or vent their frustrations about problems they’re experiencing.
Unfortunately, in spaces like Twitter and Facebook, where responses can come in faster than Usain Bolt, even the most experienced social media managers may have trouble keeping up, which is the perfect recipe for one-ingredient social media fails.
One particularly embarrassing example is when US Airways accidentally sent a graphic image to a customer who was complaining (mildly NSFW link). The customer was upset because her plane was delayed, and she sent a tweet to the company expressing her frustration. The company representative apologized for the delay, but the customer complained again. Unfortunately, the agent’s second tweet contained an image of a woman using a model airplane in… an interesting way.
The company apologized profusely, of course, and explained that the incident was the result of a multitasking fail. Another customer had sent the original offensive tweet to the company’s account. The social media manager copied the link to report it to Twitter. Forgetting the link was saved on the computer clipboard, the company representative copied it into the response tweet, possibly thinking it was a link to company’s contact page.
What makes this incident so nightmarish is how easily these types of things can happen. No one is perfect, and there are bound to be times when the person running the company account hits “Update” too soon or accidentally publishes a personal tweet on the business’ social page.
However, while it’s important to avoid these embarrassing incidents as much as possible, the company’s response to the problem is much more important. Address the issue immediately and prevent it from morphing into a Stay-Puff marshmallow man that tries to crush your business into oblivion.
Don’t let your marketing strategy turn into a horror movie. Learn from these nightmarish situations, and keep your campaign free from figurative hockey-masked axe murderers.