How NOT to manage your social media

Most businesses know they need to start using social media, but many don’t know anything about it.  But hey, it’s easy to get an account for free in just a few minutes, and then they’re up and running.  What could go wrong?

As it turns out, a whole lot.

Take Nestle, for example.  They’re a pretty big company, and you’d think they would have some pretty savvy media types there.  But, when they asked on their Facebook page that people only use their official logo rather than any sort of unofficially modified one, the response was a somewhat indignant, “stop telling us what to do.”  It was at this point that things went bad…in a hurry.  Here’s a part of the exchange:

The problem is that Nestle’s Facebook person went on the attack, and with no small amount of snark.  When things like this happen, the downward spiral happens fast.  There’s a reason it’s called “going viral” – it’s because it spreads too fast to contain.  Trust me when I tell you that no single person can outwit and outsnark the entire Internet.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t end well for Nestle.

Or how about Applebee’s and their catastrophic overnight meltdown earlier this year?  At a location in St. Louis, a pastor left a note for her waitress on the receipt saying, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” and actually left no tip at all.  All conversations about the pastor being a rude and hypocritical chucklehead aside, a co-worker of the stiffed waitress took a picture of the note and posted it on Reddit.  Applebee’s claimed she violated the company’s customer privacy policy and fired her.  This angered the Internet, and they lit up the Applebee’s Facebook page with complaints and demands of giving the waitress her job back.  Applebee’s responded like this:

This non-apologetic apology did not mollify the masses, and comments poured in.  At the point where there were about 10,000 comments — overwhelmingly negative — someone pointed out that just two weeks prior to this incident Applebee’s violated their own privacy policy by posting a note from a customer that clearly showed that customer’s name.  Most interesting was the fact that Applebee’s had deleted (some would say “hidden”) this post as soon as the incident with the pastor occurred, though one of the commenters resurrected the image and it spread like wildfire, too.  This, of course, provided a whole lot of power to the Internet’s argument about the hypocrisy of Applebee’s and the need to restore the waitress’ job.  Comments continued to proliferate, exploding to over 17,000 in the next couple of hours.  But, in a stunning move of sheer, unadulterated idiocy, the Applebee’s social media person didn’t stop there.  At 2:53am, the official Applebee’s Facebook page posted a rather lengthy and condescending explanation of the company’s perspective, and started censoring a bunch of the really negative comments.  Not only was there righteous anger at the firing, but now people also started getting angry at the way Applebee’s was conducting itself on the Facebook page.  One would think that when comments are flooding in at around 1,000 per hour expressing anger and outrage at injustice and censorship, maybe they would call it quits.  Nope.  The Applebee’s Facebook person began arguing with customers over the course of the early morning hours.  But despite all that, it still gets worse.

Applebee’s deleted the offending status update, along with over 20,000 comments.  The Internet called bull, and the company then insisted that it hadn’t deleted anything.  As one can imagine, this only agitated the Internet even more.  The social media person continued to argue with commenters, and the comments spiraled up by the thousands once again.  By the time it was all over and done, there had been a total of well over 40,000 negative comments on the Applebee’s Facebook page, and that doesn’t even include the ones that were deleted or blocked…and then the argument moved onto Twitter.  Needless to say, this is a clinic on what not to do with social media.

But Nestle and Applebee’s are far from alone.  British Airways, Chrysler, McDonald’s, Kenneth Cole…the list is virtually endless.  Celebrities shoot themselves in the social media foot all the time, too.  So, this begs the question: how should you handle it when something goes wrong?

With a little humor and a lot of humility seems to work well.

A great example of this would be when a New York & Company employee thought she was logged into her personal Facebook account and posted the words to a song that was wholly inappropriate for such a venue.  The company immediately deleted the post and replaced it with this:

Hundreds of comments poured in, mostly along the lines of “no big deal, mistakes happen.”  Eventually, people started expressing concern for the employee who mistakenly posted it, so NY&C followed up with this:

It was a happy ending for all involved, and it generated a ton of buzz — the right kind of buzz — for the company and its handling of the incident. People who were already customers became even more loyal to the brand, and people who didn’t know NY&C got a tremendously favorable first impression.

Or consider the story of a couple who purchased dishes from Bed, Bath & Beyond’s online store.  When the dishes arrived, they were broken and the wrong color.  The husband fired off a quick message to the company’s Twitter account, though he didn’t really expect a response.  Thirty-eight minutes later the company Twitterer messaged him back, promising to look into it.  Between the Twitter account and his local store, they processed a full refund quickly and without any argument whatsoever, turning an angry and antagonistic soon-to-be-former customer into a repeat buyer who personally endorsed the experience and the company in a very public way.

More and more companies are using social media to connect with their customers in a very real and powerful way, but the person running those accounts needs to know how to use that power properly.  The Internet can be an extremely hazardous and unforgiving place…or a gigantic goodwill generator.  When it comes to social media, the difference is often a fine line that needs to be drawn oh so carefully.

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