Of all the social-media lessons U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner has provided us with his career-killing sexting scandal, the classic is a boneheaded example of how to take down a well-respected brand with a few bad key strokes.
Let's call it The Weiner Principle.
Such poor tweeting judgment is what brand managers fear most when they pass social media chores to their workers. Their failings are egregious (Remember Rep. Christopher Lee?) and they are many. Below are the top five social media faux pas committed by brands so far this year--along with the ways in which their executives, brand managers and PR teams attempted to dig out from under the rubble.
War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Say it again, Kenneth Cole. It’s never smart to tie your brand to war, violence or death, unless you're one of those shadowy groups contracted by the CIA, and even then don’t go bragging about it on Twitter. However, that is precisely what clothing designer Kenneth Cole did when violence erupted in Egypt this past spring. Hoping to piggyback the company’s social media efforts onto the news of the day, Cole responded to the violent uprising in the country’s capital, in which ultimately thousands were killed, with an inadvisably flippant tweet:
"Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online."
Ouch! Not only lame, but insensitive.
Cole later tweeted that he did not intend "to make light of serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment." The tweet was removed, and Cole later took to Facebook for a more comprehensive apology.
At least Cole didn’t blame it on some outsourced social media company. He owned his mistake, which goes a long way in appeasing offended consumers.
However, Internet jokesters weren’t so quick to let the faux pas slide.
A fake @KennethColePR Twitter feed popped up featuring disaster themed tweets such as: "Of course there are no gays in Iran, they're all shopping at my new outlet in Dubai. Holla!" and “Chase down Anderson Cooper in style with our new lightweight canvas loafers!”
Some things you just don’t quack about.
When you’re the Aflac Duck people don’t expect you to have intimate knowledge of corporate culture or company finances. However former quacker, Gilbert Gottfried, might have been served well if he only knew approximately 70 percent of his employer’s revenues came from Japan. The comedian turned duck unleashed a raft of truly tasteless jokes after a devastating tsunami hit the island nation killing tens of thousands.
A tasteless sample: “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach the beach comes to them.”
For some social media screw ups there is no recovering. Gottfried went on the defensive and even continued his joking ways after being canned from the lucrative job.
An offense so egregious most often can’t be rectified. Maybe the lesson learned is not to hire a controversial comedian as your spokesperson, even if they are supposed to only quack.
Once more, killing is bad for business.
In February GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons got a valuable lesson in online reputation management. As if killing an elephant and posting the video of his victory on the Web wasn’t brand damaging enough, the Vietnam vet decided to tweet the news to the company’s 33,000 followers.
Of course, the backlash was mighty and swift. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) initiated an online boycott of GoDaddy.com and its services until Parsons "stops shooting animals" and the company’s website was inundated by negative comments about the video.
In a press release, PETA said it pulled its business from GoDaddy.com and the group labeled Parsons "Scummiest CEO of the Year."
Parsons later claimed the hunt was a "humanitarian" expedition to fell a dangerous and deranged pachyderm that had been harassing local African villagers and ruining their crops.
Anticipating a backlash, GoDaddy competitor NameCheap.com jumped on the opportunity and launched a campaign for customers to transfer .com, .net and .org domains from GoDaddy to Namecheap.com for a discount with 20 percent of the proceeds going to SaveTheElephants.com.
Graphic video below.
Don’t mess with the Motor City.
A clever tweeter with access to the official Chrysler Twitter account dropped an F-bomb on its many followers in March when he told the car maker’s audience, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive.”
Detroit takes its cars and driving very seriously.
Turns out the funny guy worked for Chrysler’s outsourced social media company and meant the post for his personal account (this seems to be the "unofficial official excuse" for Twitter blunders). The actual tweet ended up on @ChryslerAutos. The agency fired the offending tweeter.
It seems his blunder did not to have an adverse effect on Chrysler’s business. The Motor City’s comeback kids recently paid off nearly $7 billion in government bailout loans from 2008. However, they did pump the breaks on the agency responsible for the offending tweet.
A little beer isn't so bad, if it's done right.
As far as social media mistakes go, this one is pretty innocent. When the guy in charge of the official Red Cross Twitter feed accidently fired off a missive meant for his personal Twitter account about pounding beers and doing it right, the international aid organization was a bit red faced.
The 125-year-old group wisely got out in front of the ill-advised message and immediately posted a blog response: "We realized our honest mistake (the Tweeter was not drunk) and deleted the above Tweet. We all know that it's impossible to really delete a tweet like this, so we acknowledged our mistake."
And the folks over at Dog Fish beer - the brand mentioned in the tweet - were pretty savvy in their social media response, encouraging their followers to donate to the Red Cross using the hashtag #gettngslizzerd when they did.
According to the Red Cross, donations did increase as a result.
When you’re in the midst of a meme, keep it rolling!