Some social media fails happen because someone wasn’t paying attention, didn’t do his/her research, or posted something unintentionally offensive. But there are also social media fails that happened because companies and brands basically asked for it.
Yup, you read that right. You can actually ask for trouble by starting a social media campaign, asking people to chime in—without considering the potential backlash. Hashtag campaigns are especially vulnerable to being hijacked like this.
Let’s show some cases.
McDonalds thought it would be a good idea to promote the new look of their mascot, Ronald McDonald, so they announced he would start tweeting with the hashtag #RonaldMcDonald. Users were asked to tweet a pic with their favorite clown. Some did just that, but others took the opportunity to unleash some nasty Twitter hate.
In all honesty: yes.
I strongly dislike how heated things can get on Twitter, but a company like McDonalds should have known better. Their reputation has always been debatable considering the branch they’re in, and at that time, they’d been involved in several news items regarding their wages and letting employees pay for their uniforms. With stuff like that going on, starting a social media campaign like this is asking for it. Not only that, but they’d had a similar fail in 2012 with their #McDStories campaign.
Unfortunately, the NYPD discovered that same truth when they started their #MYNYPD campaign. The idea was to create some positive publicity for their police officers. In itself a noble intention, since these officers don’t have it easy and deserve our respect. But…in a time where more and more cases of police brutality pop up, this is asking for trouble. And they got it.
Once again, this was easily avoidable, had they considered the possible ramifications of a campaign like this. If you ask people to chime in, be prepared for the bad stuff as well!
Ok, one more because it is such a great example. In 2013, JP Morgan asked college students to tweet their questions to the bank with the hashtag #AskJPM. But the timing could not have been worse, with many people still trying to recover from the housing crisis. Banks had an awful reputation and starting a campaign like that was asking for it. Twitter delivered.
What We Can Learn
- Some social media are more prone to backlash than others. Twitter can be especially brutal, whereas Facebook users are known to leave detailed opinions as well. YouTube comments are nasty by default. Instagram is usually a fairly safe option.
- Campaigns with a hashtag are easy to hijack, far easier than when you simply tweet from a special account. Yo can’t control how people use the hashtag, as we’ve seen in the examples above. You can however control what is tweeted from an account (at least to some degree, as we’ve learned from other fail stories!).
- There’s a huge risk in trying to get social media users to do something to promote your brand. If it’s just good old fun, few people will take offense. But of you want to make them do something, if you have a deliberate, easily detectable agenda, that’s when the hater’s gonna hate.
- Anytime you ask users to chime in, you invite the bad with the good. Be prepared.
- Timing is everything. When your brand is under fire, trying to create a more positive image may seem like a good idea, but it’s also the moment when you’re vulnerable to critique.