What do Nestle, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Honda, Asus, Time Warner, Pfizer, and Belkin have in common? Thanks to the Internet, they’ve all found out the hard way that there’s truth to the old adage, “You can’t un-ring a bell.” While social media can be a fantastic tool for making real connections with customers, it’s also a bit of a Catch 22—just one misstep can lead to a PR nightmare.
So, what can be learned from the social media disasters these companies have experienced? Here’s a short list of lessons to apply to your business:
- Never insult a group of people who share a common voice. In 2008, Pfizer launched a video advertisement for Motrin that suggested mothers who use slings to carry their babies are buying into a fad. Shortly after the ad aired, the parenting community lashed out online, posting negative blog entries and bombarding the website with emails. In March of 2010, Nestle followed suit by insulting Facebook visitors who posted negative comments in response to a Greenpeace YouTube video speaking out against Nestlé’s use of rainforest-harvested palm oil and the effect on orangutans. Nestle’s insults fueled the negativity; soon, their Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, and over 100,000 consumers fired off emails to express their outrage.
- Don’t underestimate your employees’ use of social media. As Domino’s quickly discovered, it doesn’t take long for a few employees with a video camera and access to a video upload site to damage your reputation. In April 2009, a YouTube video aired that featured two Domino’s employees wiping mucus on sandwiches. Luckily, Domino’s was quick to respond to the scandal and addressed consumer concerns in a YouTube video apology and on Twitter. Lesson learned? Monitor your social media outlets, and always be ready to respond to an online scandal or controversy.
- Don’t fudge the feedback. Honda quickly found out just how savvy social media users can be, suffering embarrassment after a Facebook user pointed out that positive comments for Honda’s upcoming Crosstour were actually being posted by a Honda product manager. Bottom line? If you encourage people to become a fan of your company Facebook page, you have to accept the positive and negative consequences.
- Put an expert in charge. Posting emotional, irrational comments and insults is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Always make sure a seasoned communications expert is monitoring the network to respond to negative comments and potentially controversial situations.
- Always mind your manners. Being rude, combative, or ignoring negative visitor comments (or worse – deleting them altogether!) won’t earn you any credibility in the social media world. Even if you don’t agree with the opinions expressed on your Facebook fan page, be sure to always address posters with a polite disposition. Losing your cool will only result in the continuation of rants and snowballing of the original issues.
Regardless of how vigilant you are about maintaining a positive online image, you could still yourself in the wake of a social media disaster. Here are a few prudent tips for how to respond:
- Genuinely listen to what your critics are saying. Take notice of hot spots and address them appropriately.
- Face up to your mistakes, even if your brand image takes a blow.
- Address concerns in the same platform that’s creating the buzz. If customers are voicing concerns on Twitter, they could care less if you post an apology in a press release.
- Think it through. An immediate response is not always best, and could actually wind up fueling the flame.
Above all, don’t let the potential for negativity scare you away from utilizing what social media has to offer. After all, the ultimate goal of online networking is to make real connections with real people – not to serve as a platform for attacking others for their opinions. By building positive relationships with customers, you’ll also begin building a strong, credible online brand.