It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

The Little Mother Goose (1912), illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith

Do you remember the nursery school rhyme about the little girl who had the curl right in the middle of her forehead? When she was good, she was very very good … but when she was bad, she was horrid! When I think of social media, I think she is that little girl. When social media is good it is amazingly good (think of American Airlines actually seeing a customer’s tweet and holding a plane for him so he wouldn’t miss it), but when it is bad it can go terribly wrong for even the strongest brands. Although there are many ways that social media can go awry – from typos to just basic mistakes – the types of situations which endanger brand reputation the most fall into three basic categories.

1. Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

Empowering your team to act as brand ambassadors and encouraging them to be spokespersons across social media channels can be a good thing. It promotes evangelization, ensures more hours are covered, and gives the company a real personality. The flip side of these real benefits is the risk of losing control over your messaging. The more people there are who hold the keys to your social media, the less real accountability you have and the greater the chance that workplace dirty laundry will be aired. UK entertainment retailer HMV learned this the hard way the day employees with the keys to their Twitter account were being terminated. Their tirade was broadcast across the Twitterverse live from the human resources office where the layoffs were being handed down. hmvThey’d lost so much control over their social media channels that the management didn’t even know how to shut down the account once they realized what was being Tweeted under the brand’s handle!

2. Just A Little Epicurious

When a brand develops a personality through its social media channels, it increases the emotional connection to its consumers. This is important and vital for companies that want to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive environment. Within social media one way that a brand can reveal its personality is by how it responds to events in the real world. Whether the event is a particular holiday, a local sporting match, an election, or a natural disaster, how a brand acknowledges or doesn’t acknowledge the event will be scrutinized by present and potential customers. The timing has to be right, the issue has to be relevant, and the response has to be respectful. When the Canadian Olympic hockey team skated over the Swedes to win the gold, upstart Calgary airline WestJet (the ones made famous for the viral Christmas YouTube video seen here) were quick to Tweet celebratory comments. west jetThe timing was spot on and the event was relevant to its customer base. The comments were lighthearted and enthusiastic; all-in-all a great way for a brand to show that it is part of and aware of events outside the fuselage of its aircraft. Contrarily, when the internet foodie site took to the same channel shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, the timing was all right but the message was all wrong. Their lighthearted messages implying that a good breakfast treat can make you forget the course of events was seen as misguided at best and snarky opportunism at worst. In this case, no acknowledgement would have been better.

3. If Life Gives You Lululemon

What would your life be like if a camera followed your every move and recorded each word you uttered? Welcome to the world of global round-the-clock social media, a real life concern for every brand. Now more than ever each time a company representative makes a statement it is fodder to be dissected, analyzed, and replayed in a continual loop. No matter how well scripted and rehearsed spokespeople are, there is bound to be a misstatement or something taken out of context. The issue gains more complexity when the spokesperson is in any way outspoken or flamboyant in his or her points of view.

Enter Phil Robertson of TV’s Duck Dynasty, Paula Deen of southern cooking fame, and Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, each wreaking considerable damage to his or her brand simply by making revealing statements that were picked up by nearly every traditional and social media channel.

If all of these social media stories sound too scary for you, don’t worry. Just like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, social media can be very very good for you and your brand. Just remember to think twice before Tweeting once!


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8 Responses to It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

  1. pghofmann says:

    I really enjoy reading your blogs!!!:) They are well structured, well written and just the right amount of tounge in cheek humor! Excellent!:)
    You are absolutely right that social media can go either way. WHen I read the tweets WestJet posted, I was not sure whether that turned out to be good or bad for them. Re-read the tweets and imagine they caused a huge uproar. Funny enough, it is quite easy to imagine. For instance, the Alcoholics Anonymous complaining about the fact that alcohol was promoted,….you get the idea!:)

    I think it depends on the audience and the timing, whether a post will receive positive or negative feedback. Bottom line is however, that NOBODY but the person writing a post/ tweet is the one clicking the submit button. So in the end, it is their responsibility…

    Great read as always!:)


    • candemcd says:

      Always enjoy your feedback! Thank you. I do agree that the one who presses click is the most responsible, though the public will hold the brand responsible.

  2. Really engaging post! The three points you made, too many cooks, a little epicurious, and lululemon were funny and real examples of the risks of going social. However, there is nothing wrong with a little risk to reap a big reward. Social media can also help your brand in many ways. As long as your brand starts with good values and intentions there are many routes your social media can take. It is when you are a brand like lululemon that you run into issues!

    -Maria Barbagallo

  3. nyaryna says:

    Great post! You picked some of the more memorable SM campaign to illustrate the good timing and its benefits. Here is another one – Oreo’s “you can still dunk in the dark” during the super bowl blackout via Twitter.

  4. Hello Carolyn,
    While I was reading your post, it came to mind the where someone whispers something into someone’s ear, and then they whisper something into someone else’s ear, and then so on and so on. When someone hears or sees something they post it to their site, and then their friend post it to their site. In our lesson this week, in the video, the gentleman shares how Panera Bread goes the extra mile to help someone that was seriously ill, and how much their good deed spreaded.

    • candemcd says:

      Hi Christine,
      Isn’t it interesting how we tend to believe something just because it is found on the internet? That old telephone game still rings true in the age of social media! It is always reaffirming when good stories get shared as easily as the bad.

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