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. They’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. The 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 Epicurious.com 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!