What You Don’t Know About Social Media Can Kill You(r Brand), Part I

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By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

You’ve seen them on reddit, Slideshare, Twitter, and Facebook. You’ve probably rolled your eyes, laughed ruefully, and shook your head, wondering why, oh why, would anyone post something so stupid on (insert your favorite social platform here)? Didn’t they know what would happen? Didn’t they stop to think before they sent that tweet or posted that update? Didn’t they know any better?! Oh, the outrage!

It’s easy to point, laugh, and tsk your tongue when the crisis befalls someone else, but step back for just a moment…what would you do if it were you or your company in the crosshairs of the Internet vigilante justice mob? Would you be prepared for or able to deflect the slings and arrows of a rampaging social horde calling for your CEO’s head on a pike?

Things happen, social media fails happen. Frequently. Social is an ever-changing, ever-evolving maelstrom that can waylay even the most seasoned and intrepid social practitioner. You’d think by now, with social media slowly edging past that awkward, gangly teenager phase, companies and brands would have a clearer understanding of how this stuff works. There are 1.27 billion Facebook users, Instagram has more than 200 million users, at least 241 million users are tweeting their hearts out, and in March 2014 alone, some 115 million unique visitors visited 5.38 billion pages on reddit. At this point, businesses should “get” social media, right?

Wrong.

Social media failures remain a common, everyday occurrence. Who could forget Amy’s Baking Company’s epic tantrum, Justine Sacco’s Twitter misstep, or Self Magazine mocking a cancer survivor’s running tutu as “lame”? But for the purposes of this post, probably the greatest example of how what you don’t know about social can kill your brand, is the “#AskJPM” debacle.

AskJPM FAIL

JP Morgan declares defeat at the hands of the Internet vigilante justice mob

Just as a refresher: someone at JP Morgan (JPM) thought it would be a good idea to host a live Twitter Q&A with Vice Chairman, Jimmy Lee. The idea behind this was that he’d offer career advice to budding capitalists…a great idea on paper, but a recipe for disaster in the real world. The #AskJPM hashtag was immediately hijacked and the company was hectored by a tsunami of snarky tweets like “What’s it like working with Mexican drug cartels? Do they tip?”, “Do you have a secret jail in your offices so your executives get at least one chance to see the inside of one?”, and “Is it easier to purchase a congressional representative or a senator?” Eventually, JPM declared defeat at the hands of the Internet vigilante justice mob, canceling its Twitter chat, and crawling back to its boardroom, most likely whimpering the whole way.

So how did a good idea go so very wrong? While this is just speculation, it looks like a case of miscalculation on the part of JPM’s team. JPM appears to have seriously misjudged public sentiment, and went ahead with its Twitter chat despite not having an executable social media crisis management plan in place. The resulting backlash is every PR person’s nightmare scenario, and could have long-term implications for JPM’s overall brand value.

But it didn’t have to happen this way.

There will always be pitfalls and potholes on the road to social media glory, and you can’t possibly foresee or even plan for every potential scenario. Inevitably, you, your brand, or your client will experience some sort of challenge – or heaven forbid, a full-blown crisis – in the social arena. However, your level of preparedness for these unseen obstacles is what will determine whether the experience becomes a minor footnote in the annals of Internet history or the gold standard for what not to do in social media, ever.

In Part II, we’ll share some ideas about social media crisis planning and lay out a series of actionable steps – what we at Interprose like to call the REACT plan – that companies and brands can use to navigate their way through a social media crisis. Until then, stay social…but stay safe.

H/T to Natalia Rojas for her amazing “Faces of Facebook” app. Check it out!