Social media is a good thing. There’s absolutely, positively no doubt about that.
Except when it’s a terrible thing, of course.
How could it be so terrible?
Just ask Paula Deen.
See what Hillary Clinton has to say about it.
Remember, Clinton was slated to win in 2008 until Obama’s social media campaign completely blew her out of the water.
Social media is also a great way to build up a business, but it can tear it down again just as quickly. Let’s go through some examples…
1. Nothing Dies
With social media, nothing ever seems to die. Once a thread or conversation starts, you’re going to be battling it or handling it forever. Even if you manage to put a particular topic behind you, it can resurface at any time. Ashton Kutcher learned this with his defense of Joe Paterno. Of course, that was before he knew the circumstances (according to him), but that defense likely will never die.
2. Vortex of Terror
Paula Deen recently discovered that social media moves faster than anything else out there. One slip decades ago and suddenly the whole world knows, has an opinion about it, and a career is all but wiped out. There’s no containing social media – it’s a maelstrom.
3. Convoluted Management
If you’re trying to manage social media accounts, it’s a convoluted nightmare as far as structure, management, and organization. The larger your online presence, the more problems you can have trying to keep your accounts straight.
4. Grammar Freaks
Everyone makes mistakes and everyone is human, but there seems to be a disproportionate number of armchair quarterbacks on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook than anywhere else. An individual can use abbreviations and butcher spellings for the sake of word counts, but try it as a business, and you immediately lose credibility. Unless you’re a celebrity, but that’s a different story.
5. Taking Advantage of Human Tragedy
Current events are always an easy topic to discuss. But there comes a time when too much discussion is a bad thing, especially if it’s obvious that you’re trying to piggy-back on someone else’s misery. Gap Inc. learned this when they tweeted “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” The public wasn’t impressed.
6. Public Humiliation
Surely, by now, we all know that McDonalds isn’t in the business of health food. Apparently, they shouldn’t be in the business of social media either. The restaurant chain recently tried to boost their social media presence with the Twitter hash tag #McDStories. Management was looking for inspiring and fun stories. Instead they got complaints, criticism, and bashing. They pulled the hash tag, but not before the mud was very publicly smeared.
7. Egg on Your Face
A customer went to Marc Orfaly’s restaurant in Boston to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. She didn’t like the pumpkin pie and made a comment to that effect on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The owner/chef must have had a bad night himself because he unloaded on the woman with a binge of profanity, name calling, and insults. Perhaps not the best way to make the restaurant look classy.
8. Sneak Attacks
With social media and plenty of band wagons for people to hop onto, it’s not crazy to start looking for a sneak attack. Progressive Insurance knows how quickly this can happen.
Kaitlynn (Katie) – died in a car accident. The other driver – suspended license, underinsured. Katie, insured by Progressive Insurance, was supposed to get the cut by Progressive. Progressive Insurance decided not to pay Katie and tried defending the other driver in court.
Matt Fisher – Katie’s brother, posted on Tumbler – “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court.”
It went viral. The result – Progressive ended up paying 3 claims.
9. Political Maelstrom
Chick-fil-A owner, Dan Cathy, made a seemingly innocent statement that he supports traditional family values. It turned into one of the biggest hornet’s nests of the summer in 2012. Gay rights activists held “kiss days” at restaurants and political supporters turned out in droves to support the chain. Even now, a chicken sandwich can be viewed as a political statement.
10. Spread the Negative
Starbucks spread negative news when it asked for users to #spreadthecheer on Twitter. Instead, the hash tag was hijacked and negative stories and political rants were out of control for some time.
11. Blending Work and Business
With multiple social media accounts, it’s easy to get business and personal accounts mixed up. Take, for example, the staff member at KitchenAid who sent out a very unflattering comment about Obama’s grandmother during the political debates of 2012. Turns out, he thought he was logged into his personal account, not his professional one. Oops!
12. Overbearing Public Opinion
Sometimes people don’t agree with your actions. This works out badly for you if more than just a few people know what you’re up to. CEO John Pepper tweeted that his chain of burrito restaurants would remain open during Hurricane Sandy. His public wasn’t as hungry as he thought, and he received a tremendous backlash of anger over putting his employees at risk.
13. Contract Violations
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we have a contract to uphold. Take, for example, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. He used Facebook as a political billboard to share his opinions of the White House and other areas much to his team’s dismay.
14. Moral Turpitude
While we should be able to live the way we want to live, this isn’t always the case. In some professions, people are held to a higher standard, and social media is a great place to get caught with your pants down, literally. Anthony Weiner can tell the tale, and so can more than half of the Twittersphere after new allegations of dirty photos and text messages started circulating among the social media platforms.
15. Let It All Hang Out
Sometimes having a large soapbox to stand on is enough to sink you professionally. Donald Trump doesn’t care much for President Obama. In fact, he got so fired up via Twitter that he started calling for marches on Washington D.C. and for patriots to “stop this travesty.” The ordeal he was facing? The reelection of the president.
16. Username Confusion
When Netflix attempted to launch Quikster, they failed to notify the public that @Quikster was not the right name for the new company on Twitter. When loyal patrons tried to find out more information, they quickly realized that @Quikster has a potty mouth drug-user at the helm. Sadly, the user and Quikster were joined socially almost immediately, despite the lack of a real world connection.
17. Moments of Dumb
Sometimes the things that go through our minds shouldn’t go out our mouths – or our fingers. Kenneth Cole launched a new spring line. People started a rebellion in Cairo. Social media managers with @KennethCole told us that “millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Sometimes it’s better to think a few times before you tweet.
18. Building a Wall
CVS tried to do the right thing and protect customers by making their social accounts private. CVS was going to provide customer service through @CVS_Cares, but instead would-be users hit a virtual wall that told them they must be approved by the company before they can see the tweets the pharmacy company posted. Definitely not the way to get off on the right foot.
There are two things to avoid with hijacking. If your hash tag on Twitter is rising in popularity, others may hijack it to try and market their own things. What’s worse, however, is if you pull a HabitatUK and start hijacking totally unrelated topics in order to get your own tweets out there more frequently.
20. Confound the Populace
Burger King tried to be clever by asking Whopper™ lovers to drop 10 people from their friends list. Once they dropped them, the company would send over a gift certificate for a free burger. The problem? Nobody was very clear on why Burger King wanted to break up so many friendships and why the company needed to know what should be private. Facebook promptly shut down the campaign.
21. Offend the Clients
As a business owner, your personal and private lives are very mingled, especially on social media. FedEx knows this pretty well. Recently, one of the vice presidents for the advertising agency Ketchum tweeted that he’d “die if he had to live in Memphis.” While seemingly innocuous, Memphis just happens to be the headquarters for FedEx. And FedEx was this idiot’s biggest client.
22. Violate Trust
What happens when you spill someone’s secret online? You don’t have many friends left! J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series, wrote a mystery novel under a male pseudonym. When a woman tweeted that she was enjoying the book, one of her 95,000 followers told her a friend mentioned that the book actually was written by J.K. Rowling. That was all it took to out the biggest literary coup in a very long time.
23. Ticked Off Fans
Even your biggest supporters can turn against you with social media. The Kansas City Chiefs had an upset fan who complained about the coach via Twitter. The coach complained right back, and the angry fan took a screenshot. Soon, the condescending message was all over web forums, and the fan certainly had the last laugh.
24. Bad Timing
You may have written your blog posts for months in advance. You might have every post scheduled for the next six weeks. But when a crisis strikes and you’re dealing with complaints on your blog or Facebook page, stop the updates. Nobody wants to see your latest post or an updated photo when they are stuck with questions.
Southwest Airlines just got burned on this one. A glitch caused customers to be charged multiple times. They posted angry messages on the airline’s Facebook page. The response? A scheduled photo change created the perception that the company had time to change pictures, but not time to help customers.
25. Fake Accounts
While a regular user may create fake accounts to try and have their way on a social media discussion, a company absolutely cannot. Unfortunately, nobody told this to Chick-fil-A. When the anti-gay campaign sensation broke across Facebook, the company did not make a blanket statement, at least not at first. Instead, it’s alleged that the company set up a fake account to try and comment on each post by the attackers. Naturally, the secret account didn’t stay secret for long.
26. Current Event Fail
The National Rifle Association was cheerful one Friday morning. They tweeted, “Morning Shooters – Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” Sadly, it was the morning after the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting. Nobody was very impressed with the company’s sensitivity that day.
27. Coolness Fail
When a joke falls flat, it’s painful. When an entire concept falls flat on Facebook, it’s mortifying. Square Enix has created a violent Hitman game. When the company attempted to take the game to Facebook, it was a crisis. Users could put a “hit” on a Facebook friend for her “small tits” or his “tiny penis.” Perhaps not the best way to make friends or promote your company in a public forum.
28. Free Speech for All
It’s great to be able to say what you want. It’s not so great when your opposition gets to say what it wants – in front of the same crowd. Twitter provided exactly the platform athletes were looking for at the 2012 Olympic Games. The Olympic committee banned sponsorship of any kind during the games. Athletes swarmed Twitter with respectful, but direct, tweets about the ban, drawing all sorts of support and opinions. The Olympic committee was perhaps not as pleased to be involved in this particular discussion.
29. Spam Spam Spam
Toyota has created a lesson for us all. They started a campaign during the Super Bowl to have users tweet messages about #camryeffect. The moment someone tweeted using the hash tag, they received a spammy automated message about a contest. Eventually, Twitter suspended the account for spam. Toyota might not be the image that comes to mind when hearing about a spammer, but even good companies can go bad with the right intentions.
30. Hash Tag Oversight
There are hash tags for just about everything, and it can be pretty confusing to try to figure out which one belongs to what. Celeb Boutique, an online clothing shop, tried to send out a promotional text earlier this year about #Aurora. Regrettably, that wasn’t the right one, and their clothing advertisement was posted to the account created for the tragic shooting in Colorado.
31. Negative Intentions
Hiding behind a computer screen allows social media users to be as ugly as they’d like, and that negative attention and attitude can easily spill over into social media campaigns. A California company learned this when they posted a contest to name a new version of Mountain Dew ™ flavored with green apples. Rather than fun names, the leaderboard was soon dominated by joke submissions like “Diabeetus” and “Fapple.” The contest was called off right away.
32. Moving Too Quickly
As both Celeb Boutique and Netflix discovered, moving too quickly into social media may mean that you’re not adequately prepared. Jumping into an account before you’ve checked out the official hash tags and similar competitors can mean a confusing and perhaps fatal introduction into the fast-paced world of social media.
33. Digital Natives Take Control
While it’s great to be digitally savvy, it’s not always best for your business to allow the “digital native” or millennial to take control of your social media campaigns. This was glaringly obvious in the case of KitchenAid’s tweets about Obama’s grandmother’s death, but you can see it in virtually any case where a company had to retract a statement that a more experienced employee would never have made.
34. Harness Employee Contributions
It bears considering just how much your employees can contribute to a company’s social media platform. For Ketchum, a single vice president’s personal tweet was enough to tick off the company’s biggest client. In the case of J.K. Rowling’s new book, the leaker was found to be a lawyer who told his friend’s wife, who then tweeted a comment on another woman’s post. Who had to apologize? The man’s law firm.
35. Prepare to Play Along
Some social communities like Reddit have strict rules – albeit unwritten – about how things work. If you’re going to play, you have to follow the rules. Take, for example, Woody Harrelson. He participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything, which is a fun opportunity to have a candid discussion about just about anything. Instead, Harrelson treated it like a big movie plug and PR campaign. Reddit users were disgusted.
36. Plain Speak
There’s no room for fancy footwork or language with social media. This is supposed to be casual and fun; a chance for companies and patrons to interact. But don’t be too casual. When Chrysler made a tweet as part of its clever new marketing campaign, the tweet wasn’t as clever. It stated that “Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet nobody knows how to F—– drive.” The ad company was quickly fired.
37. Good Taste Is Hard to Find
Sometimes it’s hard to walk the line between edgy and terrible. Belvedere Vodka can explain the difference…now. The ad campaign for the vodka was supposed to be easy. The slogan was “Unlike some people, Belvedere goes down easy.” Unfortunately the ad included a picture of a smiling man restraining an unwilling woman. Rape is not edgy. It’s just lewd.
38. Social Media Is Hard to Fool
Walmart tried to pull one over on social media users and wound up looking foolish. The company’s PR campaign secretly funded a couple who traveled across the U.S. in an R.V. The couple spent the nights in Walmart parking lots and interviewed employees to discover their secrets and feelings for their employer. Surprisingly, all of the employees loved Walmart! It didn’t take long for social media patrons to recognize a fraud and Walmart’s PR firm was forced to issue an apology.
39. Know the Market, or the Market Will Know You
Waitrose, a posh supermarket, went online and asked Twitter users why they enjoyed shopping at the supermarket. The responses were enough to make most company owners cringe. Waitrose shoppers said they enjoy “not being surrounded by poor people.” Luckily, Waitrose didn’t mind the brutal honesty, but this campaign could have gone very badly indeed.
40. Ignore the Possibilities
Barack Obama had social media down to a science in 2008. He used his advantages again in 2012. His opponent, Mitt Romney, tried to make his own foray into social media, with pretty dismal results. His team launched a “With Mitt” app which allowed users to post pictures with campaign slogans. Things went downhill quickly.
41. Check Spelling
Mitt Romney’s “With Mitt” campaign gets another black star in social media for making a classic mistake. In the original, America was spelled “Amercia.” For someone running for president of the United States, spelling the name of the country correctly would seem like a pretty solid start. Unhappily, this was just the first of many social media stumbles for the presidential candidate.
42. Moving with SuperSonic Speed
The moment a commercial, tweet, video, or post goes live, users are able to make comments and post complaints. Often, users complain much faster than companies tend to respond, which only compounds the problem. In the case of an ill-fated Popchips commercial, Ashton Kutcher donned brown-face to play a stereotypical Indian man. The Popchips Twitter page and other social media accounts exploded with complaints, and people kept complaining while the company dragged its feet to address the issue.
43. Lacking a Social Media Plan
Barack Obama had an excellent social media plan. He researched keywords and messages. He found the buzzwords that resonated with his audience and used them to his advantage. He came from almost nowhere politically and beat Hillary Clinton to create a truly defining presidency. Hillary Clinton didn’t have a social media plan. She didn’t win.
44. Contradictory Platforms
Chrysler made beautiful commercials. They created videos and made a true image for the recovery of Detroit. This beauty was wiped out in a quick moment, however, when a bit of profanity laced a tweet that insulted the very iconic city that they had single-handedly built up through other platforms. The lesson here? Be sure your social media messages are consistent.
45. Anticipate Conversations
Social media is not traditional advertising. It’s not a chance to push your message on others as Toyota discovered with its spammy tweets. Instead, to utilize social media correctly, you must interact authentically with users and at least pretend to enjoy their company.
46. The Lack of Content
Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of ways to say something, but you start to run short on things to say. Before you delve too deeply into a social media campaign, be sure you have plenty to say. Otherwise you’re going to wind up shooting from the hip and sounding as idiotic as Kenneth Cole’s Cairo tweet.
47. Fear of Starting
You don’t know this next company because they never got started with social media. They never made a post, hosted a contest, or tweeted a tweet. The fact that you have no idea who they are in our modern global society should be enough of a message for you. If you are too afraid of social media to even give it a try, you’re going to be left behind.
48. Too Many Choices
With so many options out there, it can be hard to find the right platform to use. If McDonald’s had posted their McDStories on Facebook rather than Twitter, they could have controlled the material that was posted. As it stands, you can’t control what people tweet. You can at least monitor posts on Facebook. It’s important to pick the right platform for the job.
49. Political Innuendos
The two things to avoid bringing into business (generally) are politics and religion. Nabisco recently realized just how hot these topics can be when they featured different sorts of Oreo cookies to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cookie. The first featured design was an Oreo with stacked rainbow filling. The gay marriage advocates and the anti-gay marriage advocates all went nuts. They didn’t get as frantic about the Elvis versions of the cookie, and there’s a lesson there.
50. Customers Will Talk
Forrester has done polls on this, and it’s true – customers trust themselves more than they trust you. That means that customers will talk about your products via social media whether you’re a part of the discussion or not. Even if you don’t have a social media platform as part of your brand and PR campaign, you need to be online working with customers and monitoring the feedback at the very least. Otherwise, your clients may be sabotaging all of your hard work with hard work of their own.
Can social media make your business? Absolutely! The current president of the United States is a perfect example of how quickly you can rise in popularity using social media effectively. But just as social media accounts can make a career, they can break one as well. It’s a slippery slope that every small business owner simply must be prepared to navigate carefully.