Social Media Fails

The eastern seaboard’s recent brush with Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage, including some that was totally preventable.  No, this isn’t a rant about what utility companies or FEMA should have done; it’s about some social media fails that are now textbook examples of how not to do it.

Remember the good old days when people and companies could make fools of themselves and only a few people knew about it?  That was pre-web, pre-email and pre-social media.  Apparently, some social media minders – should we say “former social media minders” – don’t have a filter in place or the awareness to remember that with one click of the mouse you’re on a big stage, and in these examples, without your costume on.  Here are just a few examples from the Atlantic Wire of social media attempts to exploit Hurricane Sandy:

  • The Gap, which encouraged its Twitter followers to “stay safe” and then added, “We’ll be doing lots of shopping on today. How about you?”  Why not just say, “Hey loyal followers, take a break from piling sandbags in front of your home and buy something from us online!”  An apology tweet did follow.
  • What about Urban Outfitters, that reminded its followers “This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t)!  Today only…”
  • Sears reminded its followers in affected cities that they could “Get your generators, air mattresses & more in one place.”

As a marketer, I’m all for being opportunistic.  When market conditions hand you an opportunity, I’ll usually favor fully exploiting it.  But marketers must have a filter that recognizes context, and social media isn’t an exception.  There is a difference between a great opportunity for promotion and embarrassment.  While the public probably did need information about where to buy generators and air mattresses, the beauty of social media is that this information will go viral without any promotional help from companies trying to cash in Hurricane Sandy.

The solution is governance.  It’s fine to hand the keys to your social media efforts over to that hip, new college graduate who has been using social media for years, but only when some structure is in place.  Establish the boundaries for your social media marketing efforts by creating a Social Media Governance document.  For the boundaries and guidelines you establish, make sure you create accountability for them in through the job description of your Social Media Manager.  As with any initiative, it’s important to measure your efforts.  Identify a set of metrics to monitor and track through a Social Media Metrics Dashboard.

Social media fails like the ones cited above aren’t contagious, but the fear of public failure causes some companies to opt out of social media altogether.  This isn’t wise.  The reach and range of social media to communicate and engage an audience is just too powerful to ignore.  When organizations pay attention to the governance, accountability and monitoring of their social media efforts, they can enjoy the benefits while most of the risk goes away.

Category: Marketing

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About the Author: Jerry Rackley

Jerry Rackley is Chief Analyst for Demand Metric, a professional community of 22,000+ marketing professionals and consultants. His 29 year career allows him to advise from a rich base of experience. Rackley also serves as an adjunct faculty …

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  1. What do you think about changing prices on consumer products based on conditions. The perfect example of this is the airline business. They change their prices based on day of the week, time of the day, amount of traffic, and of course how close it is to a holiday. What I am asking is should other industries follow suit. Should Lowe’s charge more for lumber when they know a hurricane is coming. Would it be right for Coca-Cola to charge 3 times as much for a soda out of a vending machine on a extremely hot day? Would these kinds of things backfire or would they bring added profit back to the business?

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