Social media is an amazing way for brands to inform, support, and interact with their customers—and have a little fun with cat GIFs. But when you don’t have a social media playbook and instead shoot from the hip, your brand risks making a huge social media blunder. Here are five of the most memorable blunders of 2018 and some lessons that you can apply to your business.
Social Media Blunder #1: Elon Musk on Tesla Going Public
We start the list with an entrepreneur who may be a genius when it comes to electric cars, payment gateways, and space rockets, but who needs a little help with his social.
When Elon Musk tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private in August, the stock jumped 10%, netting the founder a whopping $1.4B that day. However, by publicly sharing this insider information outside of established protocol, Musk ran afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Fair Disclosure Regulation, commonly known as Reg FD.
Reg FD requires publicly traded companies to protect against insider trading and stock pumping that can result from the accidental—or intentional—disclosure of nonpublic information. Violating Reg FD can result in hefty fines and even stiff legal consequences for both organizations and company insiders. In fact, the stock market had to halt trading of Tesla stock because of Elon’s tweet and the resulting trading activity.
But disclosing financial information on social media is not just a problem for executives—rank-and-file employees can unwittingly commit these social media blunders as well. Employees who post celebratory messages on attaining a sales goal, reaching a partnership agreement, or even checking in at a customer location may be making indirect disclosures related to the financial performance of the company. When in doubt, employees should avoid posting anything about their company’s financial performance.
This case highlights the importance of public companies having proper social media governance in place for employees, executives, and other insiders who may not think about the ramifications of their social media activity. And it’s not just public companies. Any business—particularly regulated businesses such as those in healthcare and financial services—will benefit from good social media governance that includes proper guidance and training for employees.
Social Media Blunder #2: U.S. Air Force’s Yanni/Laurel Tweet
Hopping on the latest meme that’s sweeping social is not only a fun way to make your brand part of the conversation, it’s also an effective way of gaining earned media. However, companies would be prudent to adhere to the old adage of “look before you leap.” What seemed like a good idea at the time, the United States Air Force later experienced blowback after jumping into the Yanni/Laurel discussion by posting:
In its attempt to be part of the conversation, USAF jumped the gun without examining the lack of empathy conveyed in their message. The Air Force subsequently issued an apology and deleted the tweet. Sadly, this kind of error happens all too often when brands think they have a clever idea.
A social media playbook that defines the publishing workflow and approvals for both planned and ad-hoc content could have prevented this embarrassing post from seeing the light of day. While the inappropriateness of joking about killing people—enemy forces in this case—may have slipped by the person who was trying to be clever, a review and approval process would have most likely have stopped it in its tracks.
A good rule of thumb is that before you hop into a public conversation around a meme or something that’s gone viral, it’s important to double- and triple-check your post. While deviating from your standard topics and message can be fun, it’s also rife with risks.
Social Media Blunder #3: Lockheed Martin’s #WorldPhotoDay Challenge
Tapping into trending hashtags is one way for a brand to connect with its audience. But situational awareness is paramount when deciding how and when to engage with one.
Earlier in 2018, #WorldPhotoDay was a trending topic that invited users around the world to post their favorite pictures. Many businesses asked their customers to post selfies of themselves posing with their products using the hashtag. This was a smart move for B2C brands, but the idea went horribly wrong for Lockheed Martin, a business that specializes in making weapons.
When the company asked users to post “amazing” photos of their products, the company was confronted with images of Lockheed Martin bomb parts and bloodied backpacks recovered from the tragic bombing of a school bus in Yemen just a week earlier. Even had the recent bombing not occurred, I would argue that the Lockheed team displayed a lack of good judgment by attempting to join this conversation.
Trends can be tempting, but like the Air Force blunder, this example highlights the importance of custom social media playbooks. It’s imperative that companies put protective and collaborative measures in place to ensure that social media activities align with brand and communication standards. All team members need to consider the ways that joining in on a particular trend or hashtag could go sideways for the brand.
Bonus Social Media Blunder: U.S. Strategic Command
On New Year’s Eve, a reveler at U.S. Strategic Command thought that getting in on the
New Year’s Eve trend was a good idea. Unfortunately, their joke about dropping bombs earned a quick rebuke from the public and a humble apology from Stratcom. You can bet that the commanding General was not pleased to get that kind of wake up call, and was wishing his team had a social media playbook that would have prevented this poorly conceived tweet.
Social Media Blunder #4: The Hawaii Missile Warning
At the beginning of 2018, the Aloha State went into panic mode after an emergency message was broadcast to people’s cell phones about a missile warning. The scare turned out to be the result of human error within a state agency, but lost in the coverage of the story was the delay in official response by the government, notably the governor.
Governor David Ige learned that the alert was false a mere two minutes after it was sent, but he didn’t issue a public response on social media for 17 minutes. The radio silence sent the public into a panic. The reason for the delay? The governor couldn’t access his Twitter account.
This case demonstrates the importance not only of having effective social media access controls and tools, but also of integrating social media into organizational crisis response protocols. After all, when everything hits the fan, many people turn first to social media for information.
Social Media Blunder #5: Snapchat Snapstreak Auto-Responder Fail
Response automation has gained acceptance on private channels—just look at how brands have adopted Facebook Messenger chatbots. But using automated responses in public-facing messages is never a good idea, as Snapchat found out the hard way.
After rolling out changes to the platform that broke users’ Snapstreaks—a tally of the number of consecutive days that a person posted to Snapchat—the company built an auto-responder to address user complaints that zeroed in on the word “streak” when tweeted to @snapchatsupport. Frustrated users immediately discovered the trigger for the bot and began trolling it with messages such as this:
The lesson here is that standards around automation must be established. Automation is great for things like publishing scheduled content, and in some cases responding privately and even triaging situations. But defining when and how automation is used—or not to be used—is an important part of good social media governance.
Avoiding Social Media Blunders in 2019
A strong social media strategy is no longer enough. Avoiding snafus like these require solid governance, social media playbooks and crisis plans. If you are looking for someone to partner with to develop these essentials elements, I can help. Through my current work as a social media strategy consultant, paired with my previous role as director of social media for a global cloud hosting provider, I have the practical experience and know-how to help position your company for a blunder-free 2019.
If you’d like to explore working together, I invite you to submit the form below or chat with us.