Your company has just dropped a huge clanger. Your logo’s blasted across every news outlet and you’re getting torn to shreds on twitter. That’s when people always say the same thing. There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
That may have been true in the past. When getting your brand into the public eye was an expensive and complicated exercise. With the advent of social media, every brand uses their own online channel to access loyal customers and gain new ones. You can now create your own publicity, and make it all positive, so the old truism starts to lose its power.
Social media has also created more opportunity for large community debate, and widespread criticism. Mistakes on social media tend to be picked up more quickly and attacked more ferociously than mainstream media gaffes. That should mean that brands, in total control of their own accounts, should be really careful about what they say. Which makes it all the more shocking when they’re not.
KitchenAid and Obama’s Dead Grandma
The inspiration for this list, and an absolutely shocking piece of bad taste tweeting. During this week’s US Presidential debate @KitchenAidUSA, KitchenAid’s official Twitter account tweeted a ‘joke’ about President Obama’s dead grandmother. The ‘joke’ implied that the US President’s grandmother had known his administration would be bad so she died just days before his election.
Just take a moment to think about that. Let the disgusting sentiment just wash over you. The ‘joke’ was so juvenile, so insensitive; it’s still hard to believe it actually happened. That a huge brand, with over 25,000 twitter followers, allowed it to happen during the most tweeted about event in the US is mind-boggling. KitchenAid deleted the tweet pretty quickly, but tweets don’t just disappear when you delete them. There’s always someone who can reproduce it. They have worked hard to limit the damage since, but they’ve already had a huge amount of negative press. All for a bad joke. About a dead woman.
Progressive Insurance and Bad PR Bots
Speaking of damage limitation, Progressive Insurance in the US found that managing bad PR through social media can be littered with pitfalls. The insurance company had received a lot of negative comments after a blog post by Comedian Matt Fisher. The post titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court”, created a huge online response. The story is too long and complicated to detail here; this article covers it fairly well.
Progressive’s social media mistake came in their response to the negativity. When people vented their outrage at the post on Progressive’s official Twitter account, they received a reply out lining the company’s regret over the situation. The response was carefully written, clearly legally vetted and was sent as a response to every single tweet. Word for word each tweet received the same response.
This attempt at PR management only served to create more outrage. The company was responding to accusations of insensitivity, with more insensitivity. As much as this is a lesson on how not to manage negative PR, it also shows that it’s not just non-PR trained tweeters that make mistakes. When you market through social media, you do so on the basis that you’re really in the conversation. You can’t opt out of direct conversation when the topic gets difficult.
Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream
The scary thing about this story is how innocuous it could have been. A Muslim customer contacted the Facebook page of Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, to ask what flavors of their ice cream contained gelatin. The customer was trying to obey religious beliefs and avoid eating pork gelatin, but wanted to find out which flavors they could still have. This was a loyal customer who, despite having found a reason to stop using the product, wanted to remain loyal.
The response, a statement that they didn’t deliver to Pakistan, caused much online outrage and accusations of racism towards the company. The owner has since claimed that he saw an icon that said the comment was from Pakistan and just responded without reading the whole comment. That reasoning might explain away the racism element, but it’s still an ideal example of a social media error.
Everything on social media is in the public eye. You can’t afford to post anything without fully understanding the context. If you do, you run the risk of really negative PR. And like this company, losing your Facebook page.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. They say that as long as you’re in the public eye you can gain from it. But, considering how swift and passionate social media outrage can be, there’s certainly such thing as bad social media publicity.