Reading about corporate social media disasters can be quite entertaining. You may chuckle, “How could they possibly have done that?” until you suddenly find your own franchise in a social media debacle.

Social media disasters can take many forms, but recognizing root causes and taking preventive measures can help your franchise stay out of the negative limelight. To avoid embarrassing anyone in the franchise family, we’ll look at social media disasters perpetrated by non-franchise companies to learn some valuable lessons.

Root Cause #1: Not Monitoring Your Active Channels

Active social media channels require active monitoring. Social moves at the speed of a tweet so, at the very least, you should have alerts on all your channels so you’ll know as soon as an engagement occurs. Not monitoring your social media channels can result in these types of disasters:
  • Inappropriate auto replies
While auto replies may have a valid place in social media (this is arguable by some), an inappropriate reply can make your company look foolish or even careless about customer feedback.

American Air auto-tweeted heartfelt thanks for a negative and profane tweet about their company.

American-Air- tweet
  • Slow or no response to a customer service query
In today’s social media climate, users expect almost immediate response when they contact a brand via social media. According to a Lithium Technologies study, 53 percent of tweeters expect a response in less than an hour, and that rises to 72 percent if the tweet was a complaint.

The study also revealed that 60% of unhappy tweeters will take “unpleasant action,” as British Airways found out. They felt the wrath of Syed after his complaint went unanswered for eight hours. By the time they responded, he’d spent $1,000 for promoted tweets about their horrendous customer service, gaining over 50,000 views.

Root Cause #2: Making Politically Incorrect Comments

It’s true that just stating an opinion will register with some people as offensive and politically incorrect. As a result, they’ll often take to social media with their complaint against you. Make every effort to ensure your comments aren’t inflammatory or disparaging. But be forewarned, it’s so easy to be politically incorrect!

Cheerios via YouTube

Cheerios via YouTube

Barilla Pasta’s CEO caused a firestorm for saying they would only feature “classic families” in their commercials.

On the flip side, General Mills was criticized for using an interracial family in a Cheerios commercial.

Remember, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” –attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Root Cause #3: Newsjacking Deadly or Unfortunate Events

Tread lightly when newsjacking. If the news story or event is a tragedy, it’s best to avoid aligning with it. Attempting to find humor or to sell something in an unfortunate situation will probably just generate another disaster.

Mashable April 2013

Mashable April 2013

The online recipe website, Epicurious, lost respect with tweets for cranberry scones and cereal in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. They set up a static, auto-reply apology tweet which almost made it worse. Everything was finally deleted from their Twitter page except a final apology: “Our food tweets this morning were, frankly, insensitive. Our deepest, sincere apologies.”

London Luton Airport posted a plane crash photo on Facebook, tongue-in-cheek, touting their safety. The backlash was swift because a six-year-old boy had died in that crash. They issued an apology, but a little forethought probably would have nixed the idea of trying to link humor with a plane crash.

Root Cause #4: Opening Up For Comments If You Don’t Know Your Audience/Public Image

The first rule of content marketing and social media marketing is to know your target audience. If you don’t know how your brand is perceived, you may get more than you bargained for.

JP Morgan Chase got responses they didn’t expect when they scheduled a Twitter Q&A. The announcement of a scheduled online discussion with the bank’s vice chairman/top dealmaker at #AskJPM drew a deluge of angry tweets, hostile questions and bad jokes. End result? JP Morgan cancelled the Q&A and tweeted, “Bad Idea. Back to the Drawing Board.”

Root Cause #5: Out of Control Responses

It’s human nature to become defensive when someone derides or slanders you, your company or your franchisees. There is nothing to be gained by ranting in a professional, public discourse. Having a formal social media policy in place that outlines procedures for handling problems will prevent disastrous outbursts like the infamous Facebook rant by Amy’s Baking Company.

Embarrassed by a very uncomplimentary episode on Kitchen Nightmares and subsequent negative social chatter, Amy’s two owners ranted for over an hour on Facebook against anyone who dared to question their business practices. They claimed it was hackers but, unfortunately, no one believes them.

Root Cause #6: Profanity and Really, Really Bad Judgment

Like ranting, profanity has no place in the professional business world. Despite the fact that some comedians and celebrities are branded this way, it’s bad business for a franchise to resort to profanity. People are offended and will take their families and spending elsewhere.

Opening the door to profanity, bad manners or trash talk in your social media can make it difficult to control. You may find yourself in an indefensible position if your social media staff are not completely trained in what is and is not acceptable communication in representing your franchise brand.

Even the known satirical edginess of The Onion (a social media news network) didn’t save its CEO, Steve Hannah, from having to issue a personal apology for an offensive comment directed at an Oscar nominee by one of The Onion’s staff.

Root Cause #7: Posting from the Wrong Account

This should never happen. But with so many devices and distractions, posts of a personal nature occasionally end up being shared on company or client accounts. Depending on the nature of the posts, jobs may be lost, reputations tarnished and a brand new “life’s most embarrassing moment” is born.

The best defense for your franchise is to separate work and personal devices. Insist that:
  • Social media staff are not to post any content on behalf of the franchise from any devices that are for their personal use.
  • No one is to use company accounts/devices for any personal communications.

Root Cause #8: Rogue Posters and Angry Employees

Using a social media management platform like c9 prime which centralizes all content production, approval and publishing processes is another way to help protect your brand. Roles, permissions and review procedures eliminate the possibility of random, unauthorized postings.

When HMV, the entertainment giant, cut 190 jobs as part of company restructuring, the newly-fired social media planner took to Twitter to provide live coverage of the carnage to 70,000 followers.

Lesson learned: Be sure only authorized and responsible employees have access to the company social media accounts and disable access before you make any personnel changes.

Root Cause #9: Hackers

When the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked with a tweet about an attack on the White House, the stock market went down one percent in a matter of seconds. The tweet was quickly removed and declared bogus, but the stock market reaction shows the speed and power of social media.

The best defense against hackers is to have tight controls and security around your social media accounts. Passwords need to be protected and their use closely monitored. Having strong passwords and changing them regularly will help to rebuff hackers. Elements of strong passwords include length, random words, numbers, mixed case letters and special characters. Educate your employees about phishing tactics so they won’t fall prey to scams. Have procedures in place for quick response to a hacker situation.

Avoiding social media disasters is the responsibility of anyone in your franchise company who is involved in social media, including employees, franchisees and even your CEO. Have fun out there, but be careful…
  • Think before you post/speak
  • Every post should enhance your franchise brand image
  • Have posts reviewed before publishing
  • Social media is on 24/7/365
  • Monitor active channels, disable inactive ones
  • Protect your passwords
  • Establish a social media policy
  • Train everyone involved in doing your social media
  • Social media never dies; you post it, it’s out there somewhere