5 critical checkpoints to avoid a social media disaster

Here is a list of checkpoints to help you wade through social media and avoid mistakes made by others.
Arun Nair - Author

Social media provides organizations the opportunity to engage in conversations, develop a rapport with the audience, foster a community and do more in a very effective manner. Many organizations, including most Global MNCs have realized the potential and benefits of social media, as can be seen by the overwhelming number of campaigns launched last year. However, amidst the bounties, there is disaster lurking if you aren't careful. And brands have paid the price for their indiscretion.

Here are 5 checkpoints/pointers to ensure that your social media campaign avoids the disasters (that others ran into)...

  1. The message is sacrosanct

    Your message is the most important component of your social media campaign. It is absolutely essential (I can't emphasize enough) that your message isn't in any way offensive, discriminatory or outrageous.

    An example of a messaging gone wrong is the GoDaddy incident. A video of Bob Parsons, the CEO of GoDaddy shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe created a furore, causing the domain registry company to become a trending topic on social media and a subject of intense criticism. PETA, the animal rights group, responded by shutting down its GoDaddy account and asked others to do the same. Sensing an opportunity, GoDaddy's competitors sneaked in to poach customers. NameCheap.com even ran a promotion offering to send 20% of the proceeds to SaveTheElephants.com! Such campaigns, though unlikely to have made a dent in their profits, have certainly tarnished the brand and reputation of GoDaddy.

    Bob Parson - Tweet on shooting the elephant in Zimbabwe
    Bob Parsons - Tweet on shooting the elephant in Zimbabwe
    Twittersphere's reaction to Bob Parsons' shooting of the elephant
    Twittersphere's reaction to Bob Parsons' shooting of the elephant
  2. Responsible social media managers

    Remember, all that is required to ruin the best managed social media campaign is a an imbecile of a social media manager. Get your best people behind the job, because there is very little room for error here. And when errors happen, hell breaks loose as was the case with the Chrysler's Twitter F-bomb, where a social media contractor (for Chrysler) posted an obscene tweet on the Chrysler brand's official account. The debacle resulted in Chrysler Group ending its relationship with the social media agency. Subsequently the employee behind the Tweet was also fired.

    Chrysler's Twitter gaffe
    Chrysler's Twitter gaffe
  3. Don't ride on a trend

    Trending topics on social media are a great way for brands to get a pulse of what's the latest and the hottest. However, never ride back on a trending topic, especially if it is about a calamity. Fashion retailer Kenneth Cole jumped on the back of the Egyptian riots to promote a clothing line by riding back on the hashtag #Cairo. Predictably, this resulted in a massive backlash and outrage for Kenneth Cole's insensitivity to the issue.

    < Kenneth Cole - riding dangerously/a>
    Kenneth Cole - riding dangerously
  4. Timing is everything

    A lot depends on when you time your social media campaign; A campaign launched in the midst of an organizational crisis will only fan the fire as Qantas discovered. Qantas, the Australian airline announced in its official Twitter page about a competition to win a pair of Qantas first-class pyjamas and luxury amenity kits. Qantas asked users to use the hashtag #QantasLuxury to describe what their "dream luxury inflight experience" would be. Incidentally the campaign was launched at a time when the airline's relations weren't too good with the union, and there were a series of ongoing industrial relations dispute with its workers. The result was a deluge of negative and sarcastic comments on Twitter with the hashtag that was intended for the campaign.

    #QantasLuxury - Twitter fail!
    #QantasLuxury - Twitter fail!
  5. Are you honest?

    This is perhaps the most important question organizations should ask themselves before venturing out on social media.

    If you have been less than honest with your business practices and ethics, chances are you don't have much of redemption on social media. On the contrary, customers will use this as an opportunity to rip you apart. McDonald's disaster on social media is a prime example of this point. Recently, McDonald's launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories hoping to inspire thousand with their heart-warming stories about Happy Meals. Instead, it was just the opportunity the McDonald's detractors were waiting for! There were a flood of tweets bashing the company (bash-tagged as some would say) over nightmarish experiences with McDonald's. To put it in perspective there were over 72,000 negative mentions around the campaign!

    McDonald's twitter disaster - #McDStories
    McDonald's twitter disaster - #McDStories

However, inspite the best of your efforts things could go wrong; hence its best to have a contingency plan to tackle the situation. And lastly, when things do go wrong DON'T get defensive and be the first to apologize and accept the mistake.