There’s no denying that social media is an essential component to any company’s public relations success. Successful handling of social media plays a big and growing role in how the public perceives a company’s brand.
But social media can also become a PR nightmare. These social media debacles seem to happen over and over again, and some companies clearly haven’t yet learned their lesson.
On July 1 “Blurred Lines” singer Robin Thicke sponsored an #AskThicke on Twitter (TWTR) . Public response to this hashtag probably didn’t go quite as Thicke hoped, but most people could have foreseen this fiasco before it went down.
In November 2013 JP Morgan (JPM) experienced a similar disaster when its #AskJPM hashtag was hijacked before the Q&A session even started. Around two-thirds of 80,000 tweets tagged #AskJPM were negative, according to Twitter analytics company Topsy.
Tweets ranged from “Can I have my house back?” to “What's it like working with Mexican drug cartels? Do they tip?” to “Did you have a specific number of people's lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?” and “As a young sociopath, how can I succeed in finance?”
In the world of social media companies have much less control over the public’s view of their brand. As a bank coming off a recession, JP should have been aware of the public’s opinion.
Bad Reputation + Twitter = Potential PR Disaster
To survive in a social media climate, companies need to learn how to properly interact with social media.
Firstly, if you want positive engagement online, make sure you have positive engagement in the real world. If your customers don’t like you in real life, then they aren’t going to like you on Twitter. JP Morgan has had a tough couple years, with a lot of disgruntled customers, victims of foreclosures, as do many in the bank business. Disgruntled customers can walk up to JP Morgan’s headquarters on Park Avenue and start screaming at the building, but chances are security guards will escort them out and their complaints won’t be that effective.
But give disgruntled customers a forum like Twitter and a hashtag to unite under, and you’ve got yourself some trouble. Encouraging people to talk about your company is going to get people talking about your company, but if they already have a negative view of your company, guess what? They are going to say negative things about your company. If you hate pineapples and someone asks you about pineapples, are you going to tweet that you love pineapples? Unlikely. Having a discussion on Twitter isn’t going to change the tune of the chitchat; it’s just going to make it more public.
Making a conversation about your business more public can be a good thing, and getting your name out that increases brand awareness. But that can quickly turn into a PR team’s worst nightmare.
Twitter, and social media in general, is a very scary place for marketing. Before social media, marketers had to focus on advertisements, and occasionally mainstream media. They controlled the message.
But now anyone with a Twitter account can do real damage to a brand, and have the whole world see it. Twitter is unfiltered, unsupervised, and uncontrollable. With millions of readers, many tweeters are more influential than mainstream media. Twitter is not to be trifled with.
Before you decide to have a Q&A session on Twitter, you should probably think about what could go wrong. Both Robin Thicke and JP Morgan really should have been aware about the public views of their brand. If JP Morgan and Robin Thicke didn’t want to confront the issues that everyone talks about, so they should have stayed out of the spotlight.
Sometimes Best to Stay Mum
Similarly, I wouldn’t recommend Time Warner Cable (TWC) or Comcast (CMCSA) do a Twitter Q&A session, lest they want to spring up a conversation about their dismal customer service and coup to destroy net neutrality. If the worst-case scenario looks bad, maybe it’s time to reconsider this marketing strategy.
We live in a 24/7 world, so it is crucial to be constantly monitoring your brand. Those automated tweets may seem like a good idea now, but circumstances change constantly. Tweets like Tesco’s seemingly harmless good night sendoff “off to hit the hay!” become wildly inappropriate in midst of a horsemeat scandal.
It’s also important to have a crisis strategy ready to go when the time comes. Domino Pizza’s scandal based off a YouTube video where employees did disgusting things with food blew up on Twitter and YouTube. Back when this incident occurred, in 2009, Domino’s didn’t have a twitter account, so they weren’t able to communicate with the blogosphere and acknowledge the conversation where it was happening.
Despite countless social media fails, there are companies that have shined. Companies such as Old Spice, Taco Bell, and Oreo have taken to twitter in a positive way, interacting with customers and striking up playful banters.
Social Media is a fickle business. Do it right and your company can reap great rewards. But do it wrong, and you can get yourself in a pretty sticky situation.
Companies that don’t have a good relationship with their customers in real life can’t expect a good relationship on Twitter. It’s best for these companies to generally stay out of the social media spotlight.
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