By now most of us have heard about McDonald’s infamous social media campaign that went horribly wrong when a hashtag became a so-called bashtag in January 2012. From a marketer’s perspective, it was a cringe-worthy experience to behold the horror of the 140 character assassination on #McDstories where twitterers relentlessly posted believable horror stories: Everything from finding foreign objects in meals (like a fingernail) to being physically sick after a meal. McDonald’s pulled the paid promoted hashtag within an hour but of course the blogosphere had powered up enough to light Times Square by that time. So what should they do now?
Well this is not the first organization to experience such a debacle so what can be learned from previous missteps that have landed so many organizations in social hot water? Let’s look at David Amerland’s Top 10 Social Media Disasters 2011 where he discusses “teething problems” as the practice of social media grows. Many sins abound! Try to spot the common thread in the aftermath of things going wrong:
- After BlackBerry’s extended service outage in October 2011: The communication strategy appeared to be a near wall of silence with only messages containing technical jargon. Afterward, BlackBerry seemed to pretend nothing happened. Their first tweet, coming right after the service disruption, was “Happy Monday”. #DearBlackBerry exploded on Twitter complete with the usual expletives and biting jokes.
- Regarding the Virgin America scheduling mishap: The PR Chief’s message did not correspond with the word on the social street and denied the problem.
- Paypal’s Social Media crisis ensued after telling a single blogger that she could not use a donate button because her cause was not worthy. Paypal deleted negative comments on Facebook as if they never existed. Bad move pal – with social media, you cannot run and you cannot hide.
- GoDaddy CEO tweeted a link to his video of his personal experience in elephant-shooting. Thinking himself a protector of a village in Zimbabwe, he forgot that not everyone would see his actions in the same light. Animal protection groups criticized while competitors capitalized. His response to criticism was perceived as making excuses for his actions and GoDaddy learned the hard way that a high-profile company principal cannot separate private life from business.
- Prominent bloggers ragged on Ragu after Univlever appeared to hate Dads in their Twitter campaign. Making matters worse, Univlever was then criticized for not responding to negative comments on Twitter. They became defensive and blamed the Twitterverse for unbalanced comments as if they were the victim.
- Regarding the infamous Weinergate scandal in which naughty Twitpics were sent by a powerful US congressman. Wiener’s modus operandi? First deny it, then say your account has been hacked. In the end, he was forced to admit he did it. Lesson learned? Denials and lies only make the media lions hungrier. Tweet your meat, you lose your seat!
The common practices seem to be denial and impenitence. Although there was one brand that seemed to get it right after disaster struck: After much online criticism for using an Arab Spring hashtag to get attention for the Kenneth Cole brand of shoes, several quick apologies were made using different applications. At least the damage was limited by acting quickly and appropriately.
So what should MacDonald’s do now? Could they improve their food or their processes and talk about it as a direct response to the bashing they took? If I had been a complaining ex-customer I would want them to tweet apologetic replies to me. They could re-establish relationships and turn bashers into advocates. But it appears there is no plan when damage or crisis strikes.
Listen up corporations, big brands and public figures: If you mess up, you must bow your head and take responsibility if you want a shred of respect or loyalty to remain after a major gaffe! Address the problem directly! Admit your errors right away! In social, you are in the middle of a conversation! Poor service, insensitivity, questionable actions, inappropriate comments or whatever caused the crisis was poor judgement. Apologize over here, apologize over there, then apologize everywhere else and follow up with an apology. Provide refunds, coupons or other free stuff. Tell your customers what you are doing to fix the problem. If it doesn’t sound ridiculous, say thank you for providing ideas for where to improve. And don’t forget to actually say the word “sorry”.