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Social Media Fails, Foibles and Fiascoes

The recent and much talked-about McDonald's Twitter fail highlights a couple of grim realities about using social media. First, their fiasco underscores the need for a comprehensive strategy that considers what you want to achieve once you've engaged your audience. And second, you should anticipate all possible scenarios, especially unfavorable ones.

As any tennis player who has reached an advanced level of proficiency will tell you, one of the secrets to playing the game well is the follow-through. It's not enough that you are able to hit the ball back to the opposite court, the follow-through puts you in control of your game; you maintain your balance and transition smoothly into the next set of actions necessary to meet your opponent's next attack.

Marketing execution requires the same sort of advanced planning and smooth transition toward the next phase of your strategy. By its nature social media marketing liberally empowers consumers and provides them with opportunities for expression not offered by other marketing channels.

Therefore it requires even more careful planning and anticipation, and even then there's no telling how your audiences will react and what crazy thing they may do next. The very same liberties that make social media vibrant and dynamic can turn on you in an instant and strike at you with vehemence.

That's exactly what happened to McDonald's.

The other object lesson from this whole episode should have been more obvious and expected. This is not a perfect world, and it would be naive for you to expect that people will take what you give them and automatically use it for nothing but good.

McDonald's initiated the now infamous #McDstories hashtag to encourage people to share their good experiences with their products. It didn't take too long for people with genuine gripes against the fastfood giant to figure out they could hijack the hashtag to spread horror stories about McDonald's.

They should have seen it coming, but they didn't, and we all know what happened next. Social media marketing is a business dimension that is still in its infancy. We can expect mistakes to be made by the companies that attempt to embrace it.

Each time a company stumbles and we hear about it, we gather important lessons that guide us in our own initiatives. Following are a few more social media marketing fails that have recently taken place.

Toyota had dubbed its Camry Effect Twitter campaign as the "most ambitious social media campaign" they had ever attempted. The problem is, they set up 10 Twitter accounts -- the original "CamryEffect" plus "CamryEffect1", "CamryEffect2", "CamryEffect3", and so on.

They then proceeded to spam users, each account sending an offer to win a Camry to users who tweeted about the Superbowl. The campaign received so much negative response, Toyota was forced to issue an embarrassing public apology.

While we're talking about the Superbowl, I might as well mention a disappointing statistic (at least from the perspective of social media marketing).

Before the event, media was trumpeting this year as the "year of the hashtag." But of the more than 80 commercials that were played during the event, less than 10 percent carried hashtags. Most of these were not even integrated into the campaign, but seemed to have been added on as an afterthought.

For the companies that invested heavily in producing commercials, this was a missed opportunity that could have resulted in greater promotional mileage. Actor Woody Harrelson hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on the social news site Reddit, intending to promote his new film "Rampart."

And because this isn't a perfect world, people began asking questions that had nothing to do with the upcoming movie and instead focused on the actor's past sexual indiscretions. Harrelson tried to steer the conversation back to the movie, but this instead angered other users, who threatened not to watch the movie.

The besieged actor then called it quits and left his own thread, which was promptly taken over by the virtual mob, who continued to sneer at and mock the Harrelson long after he had abandoned the thread. We are certainly going to hear more eye-opening stories about how companies and individuals crashed and burned in their attempt to hitch themselves to the social media juggernaut.

If you are not a social media marketing expert - get help.

If you do know enough and can implement a good campaign, make sure you monitor it carefully. Making the right adjustments to your campaign (at the right time) can be the difference between success and failure.

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