Lessons Learned from Brands’ Social Media Mistakes

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.59.02 PMCloaked by relative anonymity, the social media sphere fosters what is often a harsh and unforgiving environment. The demand to deliver quality content constantly is a daily one for brands. With such demand, a number of messages fall through the cracks of social media best practices and become fodder for criticism. These careless mistakes in the creation and implementation of content can range from embarrassing to downright offensive, vastly diverging from the brand’s intent. According to Henry Ford, “the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing,” so let’s take a look at some recent fiascos that remind us of some of the best ways to save your message before it becomes a sinking ship:

New England Patriots

Human error is not the only kind of misstep that leads to social media failures: Recently, the Patriots created a Twitter campaign in which, thanks to its 1 millionth follower, the team would create “digital jerseys” for everyone who retweeted the announcement. This simple idea of creating a jersey through an automated algorithm is where things went wrong: Patriots-1-300x2841 Even though the tweet was unable to be seen by non-followers of this account, it was only a matter of hours until the message received over 1,000 retweets. Although the Patriots didn’t mean to support such a blatantly offensive tweet, this is a prime example of why automated messages—though easy and time-efficient—can often produce outrageous, insensitive messages and unwanted attention.

Lesson learned:

Right idea, wrong implementation: with social media platforms, human interaction and messages always win. Though the Patriots most likely used an automated system to produce as many responses as possible, its lack of content scanning for online trolls created a tweet that will definitely have people talking about the team—and not in a good way.

Dave & Buster’s

Are you banging your head against your desk? It’s probably because you just saw Dave & Buster’s racially-charged tweet. The brand thought it would be funny to create a message for the franchise’s Taco Tuesday that clearly overstepped the boundaries of what is appropriate. Though someone in Dave & Buster’s social media department probably thought this audacious tweet would earn the brand a few laughs, Twitter users were not amused. Dave and Busters 1 The brand quickly apologized, but it was too late: Twitter followers were already urging the company to “just deactivate now.”

Lesson learned:

If your tweet sounds like it might cross a line, it probably will. Think about what your message is implying before producing possibly offensive messages that could cause a great deal of regret.

J.P. Morgan

This example is truly one for the ages: J.P. Morgan Chase recently passed the one-year anniversary for its #AskJPM twitter failure. Six minutes after JPMorgan Chase offered Twitter’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, the company tweeted, “What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm? Tweet a Q using #Ask JPM.” The call-to-action seemed enthusiastic, inviting and well intentioned. What could go wrong? Considering the bank’s past reputation, a lot. The company had just been fined $920 million over a trading loss that stemmed from bad mortgage loans. Jimmy Lee, who helped to launch the Twitter offering, was chosen to answer the questions on behalf of the bank. Needless to say, the corporation was not ready to handle the barrage of attacks that quickly followed: Though the bank had worked with brand giants like G.M. and Facebook, the company was quickly overwhelmed and underprepared to deal with the wrath of Twitter users.

Lessons learned:

The premise of Twitter is to create a space that allows individuals an equal chance to voice opinions, whether positive or negative. Before creating a call-to-action, consider the full possibilities of what it can be used for in relation to external circumstances. As the saying says, “Timing is everything.”  

Leading by Example: Gillette

The shaving company eagerly shared with Facebook fans a comparison of its first and latest razor designs to celebrate the brand’s 110th anniversary. Gillette 1 Gillette 2

Lesson learned:

Even when social media messages go awry, there are ways to handle the situation in a professional, controlled manner. Gillette shows that being placed in a horrible position doesn’t need to incite an equally horrible response. The brand stayed upbeat, involved and helpful. Social media is a powerful tool, and with power comes responsibility and awareness. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided with clearer insight, sensitivity, resources and safeguards. Still, the rules of social media are that there are none—any message can be placed online, and it can be met with an equally variable response. When these calls-to-actions go wrong (as they often do), take a page from Gillette: A brand will not be able to beat thousands of fans’ agitated, hurt or confused responses, so join them in the conversation. Listen to what’s wrong and act as a resource for sharing positivity, offering explanations and alternative solutions.   **Written by Elise Yancey, Public Relations major at Boston University (2015)

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#OzsInbox: A Case in the Perils of Social Media Conversation

image001 (2) Last week, celebrity surgeon and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz tweeted to his followers asking them to reply with their "biggest question(s)". It was not long before twitter users began flooding Dr. Oz with questions- many of which were not health-related. Many twitter users began harshly expressing their discontent with Dr. Oz's promotion of alleged weight loss scams. Dr. Oz suffered major criticism from the media in recent years over his backing of weight loss products. For example, Dr. Oz centered one of his episodes on the Green Coffee Bean Pill for weigh loss. The supplement came under scrutiny soon after by the Federal Trade Commission, and the results of the study were retracted. Applied Food Science, the company responsible for marketing the Green Coffee Bean Pill, settled with the FTC for $3.5 million, after they raised questions regarding the validity of the study. green-coffee-diet-pillsgreen-coffee-bean-extract-axondxu1 Dr. Oz enthusiastically featured the supplement on his show, and asserted the study's "proven" weight loss results- with participants losing 16% of their body fat by simply taking the pill, no diet or exercise required. "You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type… This miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight. This is very exciting and it's breaking news." The study, previously posted on a public scientific journal, was retracted and replaced with the following message: "The sponsors of the study cannot assure the validity of the data so we, Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham, are retracting the paper." Following the posting, the Green Coffee Bean Pill episode was removed from their YouTube channel (due to a "copyright claim"), and all references to the supplement were also removed from his website. The study, conducted in India and written by researchers from the University of Scranton, was one of many weight-loss programs/supplements publicized by Dr. Oz. His controversial claims regarding weight loss products let Dr. Oz to testify to the Senate Commerce Committee this past June. 2013 Federal Law Enforcement Foundation LuncheonControversies similar this have accumulated widespread public disapproval toward the Dr. Oz franchise, which was reflected in the responses to Dr. Oz's twitter request for questions last Tuesday. .@DrOz Please save yourself and apologize to the public. Move forward from this and do no harm. #OzsInbox #RareDisease Kari Ulrich (@FMDGirl) November 12, 2014 .@DrOz What has been your most profitable lie for money so far? #OzsInbox Robbie G (@Gruntfutuck) November 11, 2014 .@DrOz what kind of fruit juice do you recommend as an alternative to chemotherapy? #OzInBox Jaytheist (@jetdoc10) November 11, 2014 .@DrOz how are you still allowed to practice medicine you lying fear-mongering opportunist? #OzInbox — Foodmancing® (@Foodmancing) November 11, 2014 The hashtag hijack suffered by Dr. Oz can serve as a testament to the power of social media conversation. This has been seen before, in the cases of McDonalds, and the Washington Redskins, where a sponsored or promoted Twitter call to action resulted in an embarrassing backfire. This should serve as a warning to brands, to carefully assess their public standing before creating an open forum for queries on social media. You can never be sure of what people will say.   **Written by Marketing intern Aneesha Joshi, International Relations intern at Boston University (Class of 2015).

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#AlexFromTarget: Overnight Sensation Epitomizes the Power of Internet

Last week, a teenage Target employee named Alex became internet famous overnight. 16-year-old Alex Lee was bagging items at the checkout when fellow Texas teen Brooklyn Reiff snapped a photo and sent it into the interweb. The picture became so widely popular that news stations, magazines, and even famous comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres acknowledged the phenomenon.   #AlexFromTarget- EllenPublicity company Breakr nation claims to be responsible for creating the marketing strategy behind the viral sensation, though both Alex Lee and the Twitter user @auscalum who reposted the photo from Brooklyn assert that they had no prior knowledge of the company.   Breakr Nation CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares said:  
We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking an unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral sensation
Twitter user @auscalum shared the photo after stumbling upon it on Tumblr. The image began gaining traction, with thousands of retweets and favorites over the course of 24 hours.        On the "The Ellen Degeneres Show," Alex claimed the picture came to his knowledge only after the store manager showed him the post. He also mentioned that his Twitter followers went from 144 to over 550,000 because of the trend.  Despite Breakr Nation's claiming responsibility for the campaign, there is no other evidence suggesting the success of #AlexFromTarget was all their doing. The company asserted that they promoted the #AlexFromTarget hashtag by mobilizing their followers, which is strange since they only possess a mere 1,462.     It seems likely that Breakr could have provided the impetus for the viral success by posting the picture on Tumblr, but the exponential growth of posting stemmed from the excited fangirls who were smitten by the handsome employee.  Even Target got in on the action: Regardless of whether or not #AlexFromTarget was a marketing ploy, the success of this campaign poses an interesting question. How can brands and companies leverage the group conformity of the young, impressionable teenage fangirl demographic to push their campaigns? This segmented audience has proven to be extremely effective in harnessing widespread social media attention. Perhaps this demographic should be given more content to push out on their respective platforms? After all, they managed to make a Target employee from Texas a viral phenomenon and overnight celebrity.  **Written by Marketing intern Aneesha Joshi, International Relations intern at Boston University (Class of 2015).

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A tribute to Thomas Menino

Menino 6 Mayor Menino’s love and devotion to the City of Boston has shown through the numerous tributes and kind words spread throughout the nation. Former Mayor Thomas Menino, who rose to his position in 1993, served an unprecedented 5-term tenure as a long-time figure of strength, community improvement and action. Despite his common refrain that a mayor didn’t need a grand vision to lead, Manino constantly acted as a purveyor of change and development through his neighborhood revitalization projects that shaped Boston’s skyline and countless other initiatives. img1195A Menino died at the age of 71 after battling late-stage cancer as he was leaving office from his former role. Despite ongoing health complications, he stayed active in Boston’s community even after retirement, recently heading a project for Boston University’s Initiatives on Cities. The program aimed to take a comprehensive look at how metropolitan areas’ most pressing social issues could benefit from academically backed solutions. Current Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, of his predecessor:
No man possessed a greater love for our city, and his dedicated life in service to Boston and her people changed the face of the city. With sheer determination and unmatched work ethic, he took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation, and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services.
Thousands of others shared in their condolences and respect for Menino’s contributions. President Obama made a statement earlier today, thanking the former mayor for his pragmatic approach:
As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Tom helped make his hometown the vibrant, welcoming, world-class place it is today. His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live.
Locals, politicians, athletes and radio hosts took to twitter to share some of their personal sentiments and memories of the long-time leader: Boston Red Sox Soccer player Greg Cunningham: Fox News Reporter Ted Daniel: Local radio station JAM’N 94.5 DJ Maverik: Politician Ralf S. Rho: Early on in his career, Mayor Menino said he wanted “to help people, help one individual a day. Just to make their life a little bit better.” The overpowering amount of support, condolences and fond memories shared throughout the nation has shown that Thomas Menino has helped countless individuals and changed the lives of many, both within and outside of the city he has led for so many dedicated years. Menino 8 Although Mayor Menino opened his first mayoral speech in 1994 by saying “I’m not a fancy talker,” his accent never stopped him from sharing poignant and wise words wherever he went. Here are a few of Menino’s best, as mentioned in the Boston Globe:
  • “Like people who give great speeches are great public officials? I mean, just look at the officials who give great speeches — they haven’t done a thing in their career, but they just look good or sound good.”
  • “I didn’t learn anything sitting in this room. I’d rather be out there, talking to the people. This job, my legacy, is about the people.”
  • “Throughout my whole career I have tried to be an open door to people left out of the mainstream.”
  • “Visionaries don’t get things done.”
  • “This is Boston, a city with the courage, compassion, and strength that knows no bounds.”
Rest in Peace, Mayor Menino.   **Written by Elise Yancey, Public Relations major at Boston University (Class of 2015).

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Taco Bell #OnlyInTheApp: A New Kind of Social Media Marketing

tacobell-tumblr-dark-800x305 On Tuesday, October 28th, Taco Bell made a bold social media marketing move to black out all of its social channels. FacebookInstagramTumblr, Snapchat, Google+ and Twitter were all closed, only leaving up a short message directing users to download its new mobile app and use the hashtag #OnlyInTheApp. The aim of this blackout was to move social media attention to its new mobile app which is capable of online ordering. According to Senior Director of Digital Marketing Tressie Lieberman:
We wanted to make sure that our fans were the people who found out about this first. We wanted to break through with a message that gets them excited and talking.
Taking a strikingly different approach than the social media driven marketing methods of the modern age, this marketing campaign drives followers away from its social channels in an effort to get them on the app. The aim is to get users' curiosity is sparked, and drive a more impactful call-to-action. Taco Bell Insta Blackout Users are abuzz following the blackout: The strategy has managed to land major successes for Taco Bell, with its mobile app gaining the title of the "22nd most downloaded app for iOS users in the United States." App Annie, an app ranking data and high quality mobile analytics service, indicated that the Taco Bell app jumped from the 60th position to the 1st in the food and drink category. What's more, the app currently holds the #1 spot on App Annie's free apps chart, outranking Google Maps, Spotify, Twitter, and Gmail. taco_bell The Taco Bell blackout without a doubt has gotten the social media audience talking, and proves that a brave move (like sacrificing nearly 1.4 million twitter followers) can sometime work in your favor. The minimal approach is refreshing, inspiring, and effective-for sure.   **Written by Marketing intern Aneesha Joshi, International Relations major at Boston University (Class of 2015).

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