online brand protection · social media

Social Media: Lessons from blunders past

Regardless of whether your brand has a million followers or you are just getting it off the ground, you want to avoid mistakes on social media that could undermine your efforts.  Fortunately, social media has had roughly a decade to grow up and we now have the luxury of examining past sins and learning from the mistakes of others.

Looking back, most of the following blunders are pretty funny and are great reference points in social media’s short history of what not to do.

JPMorgan #AskJPM mistimed tweet

In 2013, JPMorgan Chase helped underwrite Twitter’s initial public offering. On the day of the I.P.O., @jpmorgan tweeted, “What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm? Tweet a Q using #AskJPM.

Not long before the mistimed tweet, they had been fined nine hundred and twenty million dollars over its “London Whale” trading loss; and had to pay a thirteen-billion- over bad mortgage loans in a settlement with the U.S Justice Department.

Within 24 hours of the tweet, there was almost 19,000 tweets using the #AskJPM hashtag, and most of them were critical of the JPM brand. The hashtag was hijacked by users around the world who used the opportunity to berate the bank for its perceived unethical behaviour.

In this instance, the JP Morgan’s social media team had created their own PR meltdown, namely because they had not considered the wider corporate environment and the timing of the tweet. Hashtags are a great way to get extra visibility, but they need to be used appropriately and with care.

American Apparel –  Lack of due diligence

In 2014, American Apparel, posted a picture of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding for 4th of July celebration on Tumblr, accompanied by the hashtags #smoke and #clouds.

this isn’t a “cool tumblr photo”
This went viral very quickly among Tumblr and Twitter users who berated the company for its lack of sensitivity and the inappropriate misuse of the disaster.

Several hours after the post was realised, American Apparel issued an apology on Twitter explaining that it had been a mistake committed by an employee too young to be aware of the Challenger disaster.

American Apparel apologizes for mistakenly posting a picture of exploding Challenger
Examining this blunder, two lessons are clear:

  1. Americal Apparel had given the keys to a young and inexperienced social media manager.    Social media is a complex and delicate publication channel that requires quick, yet considered, decisions to be made on appropriate content for consumption.  This requires experience.
  2. What was interesting was the lack of vetting before the post was allowed to go up.  Some basic checks would have caught this post.  However, it seems that vetting was either non-existent in this instance or it failed to stop the blunder.  Attacks and exploits are a part of social media, but they can be minimised by checking your facts and having structured approval processes before tweets cause problems.

Smuckers Delete Facebook criticism

Smucker’s, best known for its jams and jellies, Facebook page was used by followers to challenge its political position against mandating genetically modified organism labels.

In response Smucker’s deleted these posts and social media users were up in arms.  It is fair to say that deleting these posts caused a much bigger PR issue than the original problem. Some followers were even calling to boycott the company as a result of “sanitisation” of social criticism.

Smucker’s, justified their actions by stating that they removed the posts under their social media guidilines, including “political commentary, deceptive and misleading claims, or are simply repeated postings or spam”

Negative feedback on social media is a part of life, but deleting posts that you don’t agree with or paints your brand in a bad light is a big NO NO.  Censoring posts that don’t violate terms of use (some might argue that this was ambiguous in this case) is like throwing kerosine on a fire and can come back to burn the brand.

Getting ahead of issues is the best way to deal with negative feedback on social media.  This is achieved through effective social media monitoring that tracks conversations across multiple platforms.  Once an issue is identified, brands should carefully prepare a plan to deal with any fallout, with carefully worded responses that won’t inflame the situation further.

Being prepared, transparent and genuine are other key elements to effectively dealing with negative feedback.    Deleting or remaining silent to criticism just fuels the fire.

If we can learn from these few examples and incorporate the lessons into a cohesive social media policy, brands will not repeat blunders of the past.  Social media is a wonderful communication channel, but can also cause brand damage if not managed appropriately.


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