Don’t be anti-social on social media this year: the biggest social media gaffes of 2013

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Following on from some terrible mishandling of social media in 2013 by household names such as British Gas, Ryanair and Burger King, we look at the ways we think are best to handle social media.

Lesson One: You bury bad news, not broadcast it via social media
We start with UK power company British Gas: they announced that its electricity and gas prices were to rise by 10.4% and 8.4% respectively at the end of November, and so decided that this was an ideal time to engage with some of its customers via the social media platform Twitter. A success? Within an hour of starting the online chat, ‘#AskBG’ became the top trend on twitter in the UK, with irate customers pouring vitriol upon Britain’s biggest power provider. Many of the comments received were too rude for us to include on this blog! One online expert described this as one of the biggest PR own goals he had ever seen.

Lesson Two: You’re supposed to be Mr Wise Guy, not Mr Stupid!
Just 4 days later, Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive of budget ‘no frills’ airline Ryanair, took to the chatroom. His attempt at engaging with his customers with a social media Q&A session used the hashtag ‘#GrillMoL’ never got started – it appeared that Mr O’Leary was unaware of how hashtags were used and received no briefing before the conversation got underway. He replied to one of the first tweets he received from a woman with: “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL” apparently unaware that this message would not be seen by all users engaged in the discussion. After being challenged by another user, O’Leary replied: “Just found out what hashtags are. Learning on da job! Always compliment ladies pics.” Consumers decided there was no need to ‘Grill’ O’Leary, but rather mock him on poor customer service, extra charges and fees and lack of comfort.

Lesson Three: Research your hashtags – it’s the public face of your brand
Finally, the last case we look at is down to a lack of research on the part of Burger King, who started off a very positive campaign to promote their new lower-fat french fries – the result of two years of top secret development. Burger King decided to promote the ‘satisfries’ on social media, using the hashtag ‘#WTFF’ designed to stand for “What the French Fry”. Unfortunately for Burger King, the hashtag was already being used as a cursing word on twitter for people looking to post their pet peeves. The result? Burger King’s  promotional tweets shared a feed with some rather unsavoury comments and irritations. What’s worse is that even though the hashtag is not being used online and will, in the long term, disappear on Twitter, the same hashtag was printed onto the boxes that these fries are served in, so this unfortunate associated message will be shared for a while to come or until all the boxes are finally destroyed. It pays to do your research!

So what rules do we advocate at IBA for 2014? Here are six!
Having seen those examples of how companies have fallen foul on social media, here are six simple rules to remember when engaging with your customers or clients:

  1. Stick to the positive: Remember that what you do, discuss and say on social media can benefit you or your company, but it can just as easily result in serious damage to your reputation
  2. There is no hiding place on Twitter: Remember that what you say, who you follow, who follows you, is public. You’re tweeting not just for yourself, but for your company.
  3. Set your own agenda rather than follow someone else’s: Be very careful to avoid re-tweeting negative tweets, particularly if another account is mentioned in those tweets.
  4. Deal with potentially negative/incendiary tweets you receive off line: Never deal with them on social media.
  5. Research your online audience and the hashtags they use!
  6. And finally, a good rule of thumb: Never tweet after a glass of wine.
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