The PR Guru

November 11, 2011

MY TOP 3 EPIC SOCIAL MEDIA FAILS

In light of today’s gaffes from Cornetto UK and British Gas (updating during the Remembrance Day silences – surely you know better than that!), I thought I’d mention some of my favourite epic fails of the past couple of years.

Coming in at three, it’s the 2009 fail from Domino’s Pizza.

When employees Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer filmed themselves doing vile stuff while they prepared their orders – none of which can be mentioned on a family blog – Domino’s management were so slow to respond it did untold damage to their brand in the States.

The video was posted on YouTube, and you can guess the rest – within days, it had been viewed over a million times, and by the time bosses had caught up with the puerile pair – who were subsequently fired and arrested – and posted their own reply on YouTube, the damage had been done.

Their mistake was to ignore what was being said about them on social media. Or perhaps they just didn’t know about it.

Make sure you are paying attention to what the world is saying about you online – it will help you nip a crisis in the bud and show how effective you are at dealing with customer service issues.

My second favourite is the complete failure of Nestle to deal with a Greenpeace campaign to save orang-utans in Borneo last year.

Greenpeace had put together a mock KitKat ad, substituting the chocolate fingers for orang-utan ones, and posted it on YouTube. The idea was to force Nestle to change suppliers of a key KitKat ingredient (palm oil), which had been sourced from the rainforests of Borneo – thus contributing to mass deforestation in the area and threatening the orang-utan habitat.

Nestle responded with aggression, making YouTube remove the film, and when people complained on Nestle’s Facebook and Twitter pages, they were dealt with rudely – making the situation ten times worse.

Eventually Nestle came to an agreement with Greenpeace, and changed their palm oil supplier, so all that fuss was for nothing.

My tip here is to be professional and courteous should someone be saying negative things about you on social media. Imagine how you would deal with a customer face-to-face if they had a problem – and then times it by ten, because the world is watching how you respond.

And finally, my Number One social media gaffe is courtesy of United Airlines, which caused irreparable damage to some guitars belonging to Canadian band Sons of Maxwell in 2008.

Instead of offering compensation, some free flights, or even an apology, the airline ignored the issue. As a response, the band wrote a song called United Breaks Guitars and posted it on YouTube. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo.

It has since become one of the most popular viral videos, being watched more than 11m times, and supposedly wiped $180m from UA’s share price. Cue some very unhappy shareholders! And all for the sake of an apology.

It’s easy for simple accidents to turn into a crisis – PR people deal with this all the time. The best response is always to be honest and face things head on – offer sincere apologies, and promise to launch thorough investigations. Don’t run away from it, because it will come back and bite you!

With that in mind, I thought one company dealt with a crisis very well this week. They probably won’t thank me for mentioning it, but a welder died of severe burns after an incident at the John Pointon & Sons animal rendering plant in Cheddleton, Staffordshire.

With the HSE investigating the incident, the firm clearly had to be circumspect about their comments, but here was their response…

A company spokesman said: “All at John Pointon and Sons, including directors and employees, are devastated by the tragic death of Mark Bullock, who was a highly valued member of the workforce.

“Our thoughts go out to his family and we are determined to find out how this tragic accident occurred.

“The company is co-operating with the investigation and as such cannot make any further comment.”

It remains to be seen what the HSE will make of what happened. And they may have another crisis to deal with when the findings are announced.

But saying nothing is not an option – it implies whatever has been said or written was correct, and in this case would’ve been seen as a tacit admission of guilt on the company’s part.

Compare that to Ryan Giggs’ response to the media stories about his private life (and Tiger Woods’ response last year).

They will have learnt to their cost that keeping a low profile/your mouth shut does not make the story go away.

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