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Prevent a Social Media Crisis with a Simple Game of Devil’s Advocate

Although many social media crises are unpreventable and most annoyingly unpredictable, there does exist another category of social media crises – the ones that could have been avoided – the preventable.

As our social media marketing is done through online campaigns and the creation and sharing of valuable content, it’s easy for messages and objectives to get misconstrued and interpreted the wrong way – often resulting in a social media attack.

When we’re too close to the project it’s easy to fail to see it objectively, which can result in negative repercussions once it’s launched.

A great example of this is the recent McDonald’s hashtag fiasco.

The misinterpreted McDonald’s hashtag

Simply put, McDonald’s launched a hashtag campaign on Twitter, #McDstories, which spiraled into a day’s worth of tweeters sharing their McDonald’s stories – but not the type the brand intended for the campaign to inspire. Instead of sharing their happy memories of the mega franchise, the hashtag took on a momentum of it’s own while people shared their negative experiences, resulting in these horrific stories trending for the entire day.

It was a simple case of a hopeful campaign gone-astray, and it wasn’t really even McDonald’s fault. They just happened to be too close to the campaign and failed to play devil’s advocate before launching it. Had they looked at the campaign from an objective point of view, they may have realized that such a hashtag could also inspire the opposite reaction of what they had anticipated.

The downside of being too close to the message

Being too close to the content or messaging can have it’s downsides. Things can get overlooked or under-analyzed and you may not realize that you’re not portraying the image or true sentiment that you intended to share, which can lead to misinterpretations. This is how hopeful campaigns get launched into social media crises.

Often such misinterpretations or misunderstandings can be avoided with a simple game of devil’s advocate. Taking an objective point of view, or having an outsider review the content or messaging before it gets published, can go a long way in preventing a social media attack.

How to prevent your content and campaigns from being interpreted the wrong way

Play devil’s advocate
Once your messaging or content has been drawn up, take a few minutes to look at it objectively. Sometimes a little distance or a fresh pair of eyes can bring an otherwise unseen or overlooked perspective to light.

Ask yourself:

  • How can this content be misconstrued?
  • Have I left any room for misinterpretation?
  • What negative repercussions or impact could this content have on my organization?

Always focus on the positive approach
Sometimes simply revisiting your content and putting emphasis on the positive message can eliminate the possibility of negative or incorrect interpretation.

Have an editor revise the messaging or content
Consider having an outsider review the content and play a round of devil’s advocate with you. Take their opinions and suggestions as a sample of what your target audience may think or take away from the message.

How to resolve a crisis that has emerged from misinterpretation or miscommunication

It’s possible that, despite your best efforts, your content or campaign still gets misinterpreted, and as a result, you may be unexpectedly thrown into a social media attack. When it’s a case of miscommunication or misinterpretation, you’ll need to act fast if you want to reverse the damage and correct the misunderstanding – without suffering much damage to your organization’s reputation or credibility.

Consider these 4 steps when responding to such a crisis:

1- Respond immediately
No matter the crisis, a social media attack continues to build it’s own momentum until it is responded to and dealt with. As soon as you’re made aware of the situation, it’s imperative that you react and respond.

2- Publicly correct the misinterpretation
Odds are that your audience misunderstood your message for a reason. Revise your content, understand where the message went wrong and then correct it. This can mean editing the content, adding an editor’s note to it or removing it completely and giving your viewers a valid and justified explanation of why you did so.

3- Be sympathetic and take responsibility
Even if it seems minor or unimportant to you, a misunderstanding can lead to hurt feelings, offense and a major impact on your organization’s reputation and credibility. Understand this and choose to own up to your mistake. By apologizing and correcting your message, 9 times out of 10, you will be forgiven.

4- Learn your lesson
There’s no sense in apologizing if you’re just going to continue to make the same mistake over again and people tend to be less understanding the second time around. Once the misinterpretation has been corrected, identify where and how the mistake was made and put the proper measures in place to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Remember that a misunderstanding can be reversed when you explain your situation, the intended message and apologize for any confusion or offense it may have caused.

Have you ever released a message that was misinterpreted, and if so what repercussions did you face and how did you respond to the situation? Share your experiences with me below!

Join The Conversation

  • MelissaAgnes's picture
    Apr 28 Posted 5 years ago MelissaAgnes

    Hi Chris,

    You bring up a valid point. What I meant by misinterpretation was that the public interpreted the hashtag campaign the way that they did, not the way McDonald's had hoped or thought they would. You're right, saying that it wasn't really McDonald's fault were not the right words. It was a failed marketing campaign on their end. The simple point I was trying to prove was that had McDonald's taken an objective eye to the campaign before they launched it, they should have been able to realize that this outcome was very plausible.

    I 100% agree that McDonald's handled the situation the only way they should have, and because of that it was quickly over with. In that sense, McDonald's may not have been the perfect example to use - I should have found one that rang true to the very end of the post, the "How to resolve a crisis" part included.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post and leave me your thoughts!

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Apr 28 Posted 5 years ago ChrisSyme

    Nice article, Melissa. I just want to offer a couple observations. The McDonald's hashtag campaign went wrong, I believe, because McDonald's confused their sales position with engagement. Just because you're #1 in your sector doesn't mean people are engaged with your brand. The hashtag was a campaign based on the assumption that people who are active in the social space would jump at the chance to tell a wonderful story about how McDonald's had changed their life. Total misunderstanding about why they are #1. This was the same misread they had on their series of "back to the farm" commercials showing testimonies from the farmers that provide McDonald's food (after about 4 or 5 stops in the food processing chain). There are too many people out there that were enraged by Fast Food Nation to think those spots would work. Trying to raise sentiment where there is none is just plain stupid.

    I say all this to say that your information is right on. But, I don't think the McDonald's example fits the framework here. Their attempt wasn't misinterpreted by the public--this is a classic case of trying to give the public what you want them to have, not what they really need or want. I like where you're going--I just don't agree that the crisis arose from misinterpretation. It was a dumb  move on McDonald's part, I think it was totally their fault. They need to get a grip on their position in the public's sentiment and understand how to use storytelling in the social media space. This was a marketing failure first, a social media misstep second. There was no fixing it. Any attempts to clarify it in the social space would have brought on a firestorm of negative public reaction. They did the right thing by pulling the plug on the whole thing and letting it die a quiet death. Just my thoughts...

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