April 2012
Marketing Messages
Big, battered, bruised & back for more: Learning from social media
mistakes of big global brands

They're big, battered, bruised and back for more. What can we learn from the social media mistakes of big global brands? Lots. Facebook, Twitter andYoutube have 1.2 billion combined users. That's a lot of influence for media vehicles that didn't exist prior to 2005. And that doesn't even include thecountless blogs and other social media tools and apps out there. Simply put, the marketplace has the ability to correct wrongs now like no other time inhistory. Stumbles can be summarized in three areas: 1. Connect and amplify: Social media gives customers the ability to connect with others who are sharing similar problems, and to then amplify theirconcerns online. It would seem that airlines have fallen from grace repeatedly here, but any company in the business of providing a service to largenumbers of customers should be wary. JetBlue Airlines created their own hostage crisis (never a good word in the airline industry) on Feb 14, 2007(Valentines Day, not a good day to say "we don't love you"), when passengers were stranded for 11 hours in a plane on the tarmac. Several filmed theirexperience on cell phones. One started a blog. It went viral. What ensued were groups of passengers who started sharing their experiences with delaysand poor treatment. In February 2010, Southwest Airlines removed a customer from a flight because he was taking up more space than the one seat they had paid for.
Admittedly large, Kevin Smith was outraged. He took to blogging and tweeting his experience. Perhaps Southwest should have checked his "onlineinfluence" before hastily removing him, since Kevin was a US filmmaker with considerable followers and media ties. Couple that with an empatheticUS population where many are overweight, and the potential to connect and amplify was immense - to pardon the pun. When United Airlines trashed Dave Carroll's guitar through mishandling it, he was unsuccessful in getting compensation and finally turned his frustra-tion into a song and video that became a Youtube sensation. His experience united numerous others who chimed in with similar stories of mishandledand damaged luggage. Over 13.7 million viewed his videos. 2. Highlight hidden problems: Beware the security camera, especially when they are in the hands of every single one of your customers poised toinstantly share your company indiscretions online with millions. That's the lesson learned by FedX when a video of an employee tossing a packageover a fence rather than delivering it to the door, went viral on Youtube. Can we assume the employee couldn't read that the package was a computermonitor? Both the video and the customer's plight of having the damaged product replaced haunted FedX online for months. It also spawned a plethoraof 'me too' videos with countless more customers sharing similar experiences. 3.Creative misfires: Sometimes social media can be a big think tank to correct ill thought out creative platforms. When Motrin launched their commer-cial for pain relief, targeted at new Mom's during national baby carrying week, they didn't anticipate a backlash against the creative theme that pokedfun at them feeling "tired and crazy." But offend it did. Boycotts were arranged and ad parodies posted. It wasn't until the story hit mainstream mediathat the ad was pulled. Johnson & Johnson was not monitoring social media at the time. Earlier this year, Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Huggies dia-pers, met the wrath of Dads, tired of being portrayed as incompetent dumb fathers, with a commercial to show a diaper meant to rise to the ultimatechallenge of not being changed for hours, in the "Huggies Dad test." While women may have found the commercial funny, arguably the growing num-ber of Dad's engaged in parenting should have lead the company to consider the shifts that have taken place in their target market, and to consider thecreative accordingly. There are really three lessons to be learned here.
1. If you fail to understand your target market, social media will let you know. Do your research.
2. If you have core business service problems they need to be solved. If you don't they will blow up online.
3. Don't play in social media unless you are going to monitor and manage feedback. Dedicate resources and do it well. Two tools worth consideringare: and With Google alerts you will receive an email when any of your watchwords, such as busi-ness or brand name are mentioned in social media. With Social Mention you can receive a report with links to any current social media activity on yourwatchwords. It also provides a rudimentary valuation of the mention being positive, negative or neutral. Want more insights? Check out my blog: or follow my posts at If youprefer a monthly newsletter summary, sign up at or follow my on Twitter @marycharleson Mary Charleson, is a marketing strategist, speaker, and consultant. Her book Five-Minute Marketing is available through She writes monthly and can be reached at


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