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Measuring major marketing mishaps in the new social media milieu

They’re big, battered, bruised and back for more. What can we learn from the social media mistakes of big global brands?

They’re big, battered, bruised and back for more. What can we learn from the social media mistakes of big global brands?


Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have 1.2 billion combined users. That’s a lot of influence for media vehicles that didn’t exist prior to 2005. And that doesn’t even include the countless blogs and other social media tools and apps out there. Simply put, the marketplace can correct wrongs now like no other time in history.

Stumbles can be summarized in three areas.

Connect and amplify:

Social media gives customers the ability to connect with others who are sharing similar problems and to then amplify their concerns online. It would seem that airlines have fallen from grace repeatedly here, but any company in the business of providing a service to large numbers of customers should be wary. JetBlue Airlines created its own hostage crisis (never a good word in the airline industry) on February 14, 2007 (Valentine’s Day, not a good day to say “we don’t love you”), when passengers were stranded for 11 hours in a plane on the tarmac. Several filmed their experience on cellphones. One started a blog. It went viral. Groups of passengers then started sharing their experiences with delays and poor treatment.

In February 2010, Southwest Airlines removed a customer from a flight because he was taking up more space than the one seat he had paid for. Admittedly large, Kevin Smith was outraged. He took to blogging and tweeting his experience. Perhaps Southwest should have checked his “online influence” before hastily removing him: Smith was a U.S. filmmaker with considerable followers and media ties. Couple that with an empathetic U.S. population where many are overweight, and the potential to connect and amplify was immense – to pardon the pun.

When United Airlines trashed Dave Carroll’s guitar through mishandling, he was unsuccessful in getting compensation and finally turned his frustration into a song and video that became a Youtube sensation. His experience united numerous others who chimed in with similar stories of mishandled and damaged luggage. More than 13.7 million people viewed his videos.

Highlight hidden problems:

Beware security cameras, especially when they’re in the hands of every one of your customers poised to instantly share your company indiscretions online with millions. That’s the lesson learned by FedEx when a video of an employee tossing a package over a fence rather than delivering it to the door went viral on Youtube. Can we assume the employee couldn’t read that the package was a computer monitor? Both the video and the customer’s plight of having the damaged product replaced haunted FedEx online for months. It also spawned a plethora of “me too” videos with countless more customers sharing similar experiences.

Creative misfires:

Sometimes social media can be a big think tank to correct ill-thought-out creative platforms. When Motrin launched its commercial for pain relief targeted at new mothers during national baby-carrying week, it didn’t anticipate a backlash against the creative theme that poked fun at mothers feeling “tired and crazy.” But offend it did. Boycotts were arranged and ad parodies posted. It wasn’t until the story hit mainstream media that the ad was pulled. Johnson & Johnson was not monitoring social media at the time. Earlier this year, Kimberly-Clark’s “Huggies dad test” raised the wrath of dads weary of being portrayed as incompetent fathers. The commercial from the Huggies diaper-maker hoped to illustrate a diaper capable of meeting the ultimate challenge of not being changed for hours. While women might have found the commercial funny, arguably the growing number of dads engaged in parenting should have led the company to consider the shifts that have taken place in their target market and to consider the creative accordingly.

There are three lessons to be learned here.

If you fail to understand your target market, social media will let you know. Do your research.

If you have core business service problems, they need to be solved. If you don’t, they will blow up online.

Don’t play in social media unless you are going to monitor and manage feedback. Dedicate resources and do it well. Two tools worth considering are and With Google alerts you will receive an email when any of your watchwords, such as business or brand name are mentioned in social media. With Social Mention you can receive a report with links to any current social media activity on your watchwords. It also provides a rudimentary valuation of the mention being positive, negative or neutral.

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