#EpicFail – How not to manage your social media

Lawrence Jones

Thursday 16 October 2014

Technology is rapidly changing the way businesses communicate, with social media offering the opportunity for instant communication with organisations and brands. Poor customer engagement is now a solid staple for the media, with bloggers, columnists and social media users feasting on any crisis. And the damage done to your brand can take years to fix.

Here are some solid-gold examples of just how wrong some businesses get customer engagement on social media – and a few tips on how you can avoid doing the same.

Learn your lessons

In the last couple of years, the American Airlines Group seems to be waging a one-company campaign on how not to use social media, from ignoring customer complaints and using pre-programmed replies to sharing pornographic images.

After receiving a bomb threat from a 14-year-old Dutch teenager, the American Airlines Twitter account was inundated with similar threats.

For a business with almost one million followers, you would think they would learn from their mistakes, but they show no signs of doing so just yet.

Protect your brand

Burger King and McDonald’s are the undisputed fast-food kings, going burger-to-burger with one another for high-street domination. In 2013, one cheeky hacker managed to crack the Burger King Twitter account and, over the space of an hour, posted numerous damaging tweets – including the news that Burger King had been bought by McDonald’s.

Keep your friends close and your passwords closer.

Respect the internet

Customer reviews are the lifeblood of the internet, providing an independent appraisal of a product or service. While not always fair or accurate, it’s a model good enough for Apple’s iTunes, eBay and Amazon. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals and businesses can’t resist the urge to post fake reviews. It’s become so serious that Google is working on an algorithm to spot them.

While it’s tempting to do, lawmakers in the US are already cracking down on the practice, and it’s unlikely that fake reviews will be treated leniently here in the UK either. Let your customers do the talking.

Understand the tech

When Ryanair’s outspoken boss, Michael O’Leary, agreed to take part in an online Q&A, fireworks could have been expected. But perhaps not in the first tweet.

Seemingly unaware of how Twitter works, his initial tweet – a sexist comment aimed at a poster – set the tone as the chat rather predictably descended into farce as the budget boss traded insults with posters. Online Q&As have also spectacularly blown up for Wall Street powerhouse JPMorgan and controversial pop star Robin Thicke in the last year.

All about timing

In comedy, like social media, timing is everything. British Gas decided to organise a Twitter chat on the same day as raising prices for all customers by up to 10 per cent. Predictably, the chat descended into farce as British Gas incurred the wrath of the Twittersphere. For any business or brand planning a Twitter chat, make sure you plan well, provide support and pick the right time.

Laugh along

An emotional relationship with your brand is the key to customer engagement, but it can’t be forced. While the John Lewis Christmas ad seemingly captures the hearts of the public every year, upmarket food chain Waitrose (part of the John Lewis ‘family’) spectacularly misjudged a twitter campaign in 2012.

Using “I shop at Waitrose because…” to instigate conversations, one assumes that answers like “I don’t like being surrounded by poor people” probably weren’t on the shopping list. Pundits were torn, with some considering it a PR disaster while others saw it as a huge success. In any event, the PR team did the right thing and dealt with the issue with a smile – saving face and improving brand perception.