For companies that consistently provide reliable products and services to consumers, the use of social media to promote brand loyalty and recognition is a positive force in online marketing. For companies with less than stellar reputations, especially concerning customer service, social media becomes a backfiring weapon of mass destruction. Even great companies can incur the wrath of spiteful Internet comments by opening the flood gates to un-moderated social media interaction with the public.
Case in point: last year, McDonald's experienced an embarrassing avalanche of social negativity after introducing the promotional #McDStories hashtag to the Twitterverse. People began slamming the hashtag with unsavory stories of their impressions and visits to the fast food restaurant. Everything from poorly prepared menu items to the unsanitary practices of the fast food giant's line cooks and other employees was covered in gory detail. McDonalds quickly lost control of the hashtag, which made more news of course - along with all its most hair raising Tweets.
McDonald's is an easy target to hold up as an example of social media gone awry, but it is not the only company to suffer from such a backfire. In a similar move, home security company ADT received so much negative feedback on its social media networks that it finally wrote up a Social Media Policy outlining its terms of engagement with the public, and warning that unscrupulous and slanderous comments could be removed at will. Its social media sites continue to receive negative engagement, even though the original complaints about poor customer service were addressed. In ADT's case, involving a well recognized brand in a highly specialized field with little competition, the sudden opening up of social media to the public provided the unsatisfied with a forum for voicing their grievances and the company is still struggling to recover.
Benefits of Fail
Failed social media campaigns can be destructive, but they can also be beneficial. A really bad social media fail can live on the minds of bloggers for months. It's the stuff memes are made of. As long as a fail is circulated around the Web and kept in contemporary conversation, it can draw just as much attention to the company behind it as a viral video. Most of this traffic, however, will be from the curious spectator types who want to see what all the fuss is about. That alone is not the traffic that converts to sales or reinforces a strong and positive brand impression. When looked at as an opportunity, the social media fail can be used to gently divert some of the curious onlookers from their original intentions if the company provides an alternative to greet them when they arrive.
Do you have any social media disaster stories to share? Please leave me a comment!