Social media networks have become ingrained in our daily lives. This deep integration facilitates the dissemination of news – both good and bad – at a breakneck speed. A minor customer service problem or a controversial company statement can easily get blown out of proportion and reach a large audience within hours, causing havoc to the company’s image. Seemingly innocuous ad campaigns or posts on social media can turn into negative publicity for the brand incredibly quickly.
Even good-natured campaigns on social networks have the possibility to cause serious backlash to the business. One of the major reasons for these social media crises is due to brands not recognising how the online world works. An unanswered customer complaint can turn into a serious disaster in a matter of hours; the same applies to any replies made which appear rude or discriminatory. The customer service department plays a great role in avoiding social media crises through proper follow up of complaints.
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With all this being said, we wanted to share a few examples of customer service disasters made by some top brands through social media. Enjoy, and try not to cringe too hard:
1. McDonald's #McDStories Twitter Campaign Gone Horribly Wrong
McDonald's planned a Twitter campaign way back in January 2012 that backfired on them. The campaign was split into two parts: a #MeetTheFarmers hashtag meant for promoting their brand as an advocate of fresh produce and a #McDStories hashtag for sharing their experience with the restaurant.
However, the vague nature of the #McDStories hashtag prompted other users to pick it up and start thrashing the company through viral tweets. Every bad experience customers had with the fast food chain was highlighted and shared with the rest of the world by using this promoted hashtag, which ironically was paid for my McDonald's.
McDonald’s had to pull their campaign within 2 hours of promoting it, but there were already over 70,000 tweets mentioned on twitter with the said hashtag. McDonald's sent out an email statement afterwards informing that their campaign "didn’t go as planned".
2. Snickers Gets Caught For Paying Celebrities to Tweet
Brands have already paid celebrities to endorse their products on media platforms such as television, radio and newspapers. Nevertheless, all the endorsements on these media channels are known to the general public at large. Paying celebrities to tweet is a different matter altogether as the public is kept hidden from the promotional aspect of the endorsement.
Manchester United football club star Rio Ferdinand tweeted a photo of him about to eat a Snickers bar. His large fan following quickly grabbed the attention of UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT). According to OFT, a celebrity must make it absolutely clear that they are promoting a brand and not use any deceptive advertising tactics.
This glaring oversight came to be known as Snickers-gate, for lack of a better word. Ian Botham, Jordan and Amir Khan were some of the other celebs who also took part in this campaign. While social media can be used to endorse some products, keeping it from public knowledge is deception at best - and dulls the brand image when caught; which is exactly what Snickers went through.
3. Microsoft's gaffe about Anne Coutler on Twitter
It is always ugly for a brand to step into partisan-politics. One can never know which political party or figure the intended audience supports. The followers will be divided along political lines and the ensuing arguments can be pretty damaging for the brand.
Microsoft replied to a tweet from liberal economist Robert Reich on Twitter, who had tweeted that he is in New York to visit his granddaughter and discuss on a panel with Ann Coutler. However, Microsoft's response to him suggested that his granddaughter's level of discourse and policy were better than that of Ann Coutler's.
Obviously, followers of Microsoft were not impressed by this anti-neutral stand. The tweet was however removed quickly enough and Microsoft issued a statement saying that it was posted by an employee who wanted to tweet with his personal account, but mistakenly used the corporate account. They learned their lesson: always stay vigilant of what you post and never try to play partisan-politics on social media accounts.
4. KitchenAid's offensive joke about Obama's Grandmother
KitchenAid insulted the President of the USA, Barrack Obama, by tweeting about his dead grandmother. The tweet suggested that Obama's grandmother died 3 days before he was sworn in as the President because she knew how bad it would be. It was utterly tasteless and a pathetic attempt at unappreciative humour; moreover, the tweeter didn't even use proper grammar.
Obama had mentioned his grandma, Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham, during his presidential debates, but she died just days before he was sworn in as the President. As always with such guffaws, KitchenAid was quick to issue an apology and a statement. The statement said that an employee had used their brand account instead of his personal account to post the tweet.
The irresponsible employee was possibly fired and Cynthia Soledad, who leads the KitchenAid brand, took complete responsibility of the mistake and subsequently tweeted an apology to Obama. Again, mixing brand and politics is not a good idea for a brand's image.
5. American Apparel Incites Backlash for 'Hurricane Sandy Sale'
An ad from American Apparel for a 'Hurricane Sandy Sale' sparked severe backlash on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The clothing retail giant sent out a promotional email offering 20% discount to the customers for the next 36 hours in case they’re "bored of the storm."
Making use of natural disaster and tragedies isn't a good idea to maintain a good brand image in public's eyes; they even named the discount coupon as "SANDYSALE". The sale was limited to areas which were affected by the hurricane. Apparently, American Apparel wanted to target online users who are staying indoors due to the hurricane.
The backlash from social media users was severe and very negative. Many expressed their displeasure over the ad and some even threatened to boycott American Apparel stores. This is a case of another social media crisis that could have been averted easily.
Social media is a collective voice of all your customers combined together. It is a real game changer in modern marketing techniques - and the only way to ensure that you reach your audience effectively is to appeal to the community and get them involved in the discussion.