Social Media 2012 – The Year in Review Part I – The Bad

To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Now, I’m sure John Hughes wasn’t predicting social media and the Internet in 1986 (although if he was a Rick Springfield fan, I could make a compelling argument that he might have…), but that statement, uttered as a summation of the physical, spiritual, and emotional need for a day off, has come to enter our lexicon and is more appropriate for today’s rapidly changing, information-based society than ever before.

Living in the Information Age makes it difficult to catch one’s breath. The next and newest are always mere days away and obsolescence is just a fact of life. But without stopping from time to time to take stock of where we’ve been, we run the risk – especially in business – of missing opportunities to learn from our mistakes.

What’s a year end without some sort of year-end list? So, as clichéd as it may be, may I present to you my Top Five Positives and Negatives from the Year that Was in Social Media.

Because I want to finish the year on a positive note, we’ll start with the top-five negative trends of 2012:

1) THINK BEFORE YOU HASHTAG: Some of the world’s biggest brands (presumably with some of the biggest marketing departments) saw their hopes, dreams, and aspirations thrown back in their respective faces with the speed, sarcasm, and vitriol that only the Internet can provide.

The year started off well with McDonald’s launching a #McDStories hashtag – and when I say well, I mean for those of us who enjoy a little Schadenfreude with our morning coffee! Initially intended to be a forum for positive stories about the brand, its people, and the “food, folks, and fun” that the Golden Arches wants to be known for, it turned into a magnet for customer dissatisfaction, venting of negative experiences, and spreading of rumours and allegations. Full credit to McDonald’s, they turned this negative into the Our Food. Your Questions Web site, which is a model for organizational transparency.

Speaking of coffee, Starbucks apparently didn’t learn from McD’s experience as their #SpreadTheCheer campaign attracted a similar amount of negative commentary – and unwanted attention to the company’s taxation issues.

And the less said about the lack of vision behind #susanalbumparty, in support of Susan Boyle’s album release the better – except for the fact that even deleting a post doesn’t make it go away on the Internet. No matter how much her PR people want you to use #SusanBoylesAlbumParty, the former – with all its innuendo and pubescent-giggles-inducing potential will not go away.

2) DON’T TWEET WITH MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS ACTIVE:  We had a few examples of companies “Getting Slizzered” on-line this year. This references the 2010 American Red Cross situation where a social-media type posted a personal comment about getting hammered on Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer on the Red Cross’ public-facing site (and using the hashtag #gettingslizzered).

In October, we saw two examples: Followers of @KitchenAidUSA were shocked to see the following statement, “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president. #nbcpolitics…” And while KitchenAid quickly apologized, they were the subject of much negative attention.

Shortly thereafter, @StubHub’s Twitter feed posted a message saying, “Thank f*** it’s Friday! Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.” (Expletive censored by author – there are kids out there who may be reading this… but there was no censoring in the actual post!) This too was eventually deleted.

And they weren’t the only ones, the Montana Office of Tourism, Chrysler, and others all were victimized by a social media manager who forgot to log out of the business’ account or were using software that allows them to post to multiple accounts from the same interface.

Easy solution? Only log on to one social network at a time. Your business’ reputation is worth an extra log in here and there! These stories didn’t remain solely on the Twitterverse – they were picked up and discussed ad nauseam by mainstream media as well. And, if you do screw up, fix it the right way. The Red Cross not only addressed the issue with humour, they ended up partnering with the beer brand to create a Beer for Blood campaign that effectively turned a negative into a positive – and engendered a tremendous amount of goodwill for the organization as a result.

3) KNOW WHAT’S TRENDING – AND WHY! I could name this the Kenneth Cole Twit-morial Award, in honour of the 2011 post that made light of the Egyptian revolution by suggesting it was related to the brand’s spring collection. But, no… Sadly, on the Internet mistakes are made to be repeated, as we saw this year with Celeb Boutique’s ill-informed Tweet.

It would seem that someone responsible for the brand’s Twitter presence saw that #Aurora was a trending topic. And like those who choose to share urban legends without doing a cursory search, that person jumped on the trend by Tweeting, “#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;)…” complete with a link to the on-line shopping site.

Customer response was swift and visceral, as the #Aurora hashtag was actually in reference to a tragedy that saw 12 murdered and 59 wounded in a senseless mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It only takes a couple of minutes to research memes, hashtags, and on-line statements – and those few moments’ of work can be worth a thousand times its weight in gold if it prevents your brand from being tarnished by the stain of insensitivity.

Which leads to the next point…

4) MONITOR YOUR PRE-SCHEDULED POSTS: The Aurora shootings took place during a midnight movie screening. Less than 10 hours later, a (hopefully) pre-scheduled Tweet by the Twitter handle for the National Rifle Association’s American Rifleman journal, said “Good morning, shooters! Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”

The Tweet – and the account itself – were deleted, although the @NRA_Rifleman handle is again active and up to over 6,300 Tweets as of Dec. 27th. Although there is some dispute over the origin of the Tweets, prevailing Internet sleuthing suggests that it was scheduled five days in advance.

This is an admittedly extreme example of the dangers of scheduling posts. My personal experience? Unless it’s the most banal of information (on-date holiday closings; generalized holiday wishes), avoid scheduling posts – especially if they have a product-promotion focus. Chances are everything will be fine; but in those extreme cases, it can be devastating to one’s business.

Which, if I may say, is a fantastic segue into the next point – the biggest lesson learned from the year that was in social media…

5) TRAGEDY IS NO JOKE: You would think this goes without saying, but we saw far too many examples of people making light of situations that they really shouldn’t. Businesses aren’t stand-up comedians; they’re not in the market of social satire. However, the fact is that the average consumer is exposed to an incredible volume of information and media each and every day. It’s tough to cut through that level of white noise, and sometimes businesses go too far in trying to be edgy, viral, or buzz-worthy.

Hurricane Sandy seemed to bring out the worst – likely because most people assumed that the damage would not be so severe inland. But, as we saw, the devastation in New York and New Jersey went above and beyond people’s worst fears. Many businesses gambled on past history – and lost.

  • American Apparel: “In case you’re bored during the storm, 20% off everything for next 36 hours.”
  • Gap: “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?... – a Tweet compounded in its insensitivity by a tag reading, “A check-in at Frankenstorm Apocalypse – Hurricane Sandy”
  • Urban Outfitters: “This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t)! Today only… #frankenstorm #ALLSOGGY”

Even us polite Canucks were not immune to insensitivity, as President’s Choice tweeted, “What’s scarier? Hurricane #Sandy or a beverage with marshmallow eyeballs? #recipe #Halloween”

Thank goodness we had Hollywood starlets around to help us put things into perspective, as evidenced by this @lindsaylohan Tweet: “WHY is everyone in SUCH a panic about hurricane (i’m calling it Sally)..? Stop projecting negativity! Think positive and pray for peace.”

And I think Ms. Lohan’s words are a perfect place to stop. It is time to think positive and tomorrow I’ll bring you the top-five social trends of 2012 – and one other surprise to help you frame this year in a positive light!

Of course, comments are open and I’d love to read what you thought the worst on-line gaffes of 2012 were. What made you shake your head? What made you angry? What made you laugh for its sheer lunacy? Comments are open!

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