Social Media Missteps Can be Quite Loud

Tweets and Quacks Need More Sound Checks

I read a line this morning that is sure to become a catch phrase for 2011. “…think before you tweet.” It was said by Daniel Khabie, chief executive at Digitaria, an agency in San Diego, as part of a New York Times article about social marketing blunders and their consequences. They’re running rampant.

You have the Gilbert Gottfried incident with Aflac. He had been the longtime voice of the duck before tweeting some awful “jokes” about the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, a market, according to the Times, that accounts for 75% of Aflac’s revenue! He was dismissed Monday. A second incident occurred last week “when an employee of New Media Strategies, an agency handling the Twitter account for the Chrysler brand that is aimed at consumers, posted” this comment: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to drive.” A vulgarity sat between “to” and “drive.”

Twitter malfunctions have also spread to sports. Cappie Pondexter, a female professional basketball player, tweeted horrible things this week about the earthquake situation and had to immediately apologize. A few months ago, Mike Wise, a Washington Post sports columnist, decided to experiment by making up and tweeting a breaking story about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He ended up getting suspended. Those are just two of many incidents.

We all know the marketing positives of social media by now. But it seems that we are starting to see more than ever the negatives. I like this passage from the Times article:

“Craig Macdonald, chief marketing officer at Covario in San Diego, an agency for search advertising and social media advertising, said he would recommend that marketers pursue a strategy of ‘controlled chaos’ in social media. ‘Offer employees some sort of certification course and tell them, We’ll tolerate some negativity and dumb stuff, and we’ll course-correct as we go along,’ Mr. Macdonald said. ‘Then monitor what they say, course correct — and do better next time.’ ”

Coincidentally, a SIPA member just sent me a report this morning from the Center for Media Research about retailers turning negative reviews into positive experiences for their companies by directly responding to those naysayers. Ed Garsten, a Chrysler spokesman, used the agency faux pas last week to blog about Chrysler’s commitment to Detroit: “So why were we so sensitive? That commercial featuring the Chrysler 200, Eminem and the City of Detroit wasn’t just an act of salesmanship. This company is committed to promoting Detroit and its hard-working people. The reaction to that commercial, the catchphrase ‘imported from Detroit,’ and the overall positive messages it sent has been volcanic.”

Still, the issue here is not to make those mistakes in the first place. Again from the Times, quoting George E. Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University: “…there are people in your company who forget when they post on a blog, on Twitter, on a Facebook page, that it’s out there — and it’s out there at warp speed.’ ”

Belch added that “we’re going to see more of this” because “I don’t think people can always turn off their personal lives and say, ‘I’m crossing over to corporate brand communications now.’ ”

What’s the answer? Be careful. In the same way that we have all been advised for years to think twice before hitting that “send” button for an email, you should think three maybe four times before hitting it on Twitter and Facebook. And that goes for your personal life as well as your company’s. As the above examples show, the dividing line is becoming much less clear these days. Also remember that anything you write will never disappear. Never.

“We, as people, have a social responsibility,” Khabie said. “What you say in social media shouldn’t be just a chain of thoughts.” Brands need to “establish a social media policy.”



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    Amanda M.

    It’s pretty funny that a company that uses Eminem as their spokesperson would fire someone who dropped the F bomb on Twitter.

    When someone at the Red Cross accidentally tweeted from the Red Cross account instead of their personal account about getting drunk, Red Cross responded by making a little joke out of it, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet, but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”.

    Red Cross got an increase in donations out of the whole thing.

    A social media policy is absolutely necessary, but I think the first step is using your best judgement when choosing who will use your Twitter account. Then having a strategy already in place in case something happens, cause sometimes accidents just happen (ex. Red Cross).


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