Why would a high-profile company think it was a smart idea to launch a hashtag asking customers and the public to share photos and messages about how much they love the brand? Recent history is littered with the corpses of such epic social media fails, yet it seems to be so easy to ignore what has gone before, says Dr Tony Jaques.
Think carefully before you start a social media campaign asking users to post messages of love – they can often fall flat (image: Jan Hruby/123rf)
The start of a New Year is a good time to look back and say what have we learned? So let’s consider the case of defence technology company Lockheed Martin. In the middle of 2018 the world’s largest weapons maker tweeted: “Do you have an amazing photo of one of our products? Tag us in your pic and we may feature it during our upcoming #WorldPhotoDay celebration on August 19!”
The tweet came less than a week after a Saudi-led attack on a school bus in Yemen, which killed dozens of boys and their teachers. CNN reported that the weapon used was a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of many thousands sold to Saudi Arabia as part of billions of dollars of weapons exports.
The response to the Tweet was as predictable as it was brutal. Angry netizens uploaded photos of bloodstained UNICEF backpacks and fragments of the bomb, alongside comments such as: “Here is the product of your products,” and: “Great product! Killed 40 children. @LockheedMartin is the best.”
The company’s Tweet was quickly deleted, but the question is not: “What response did it expect?” but rather: “What was it thinking?” Did the company have no appreciation of how likely it is to go wrong when an organisation gratuitously invites the public to share photos and messages of appreciation?
Consider what happened in 2014 when the New York Police Department Tweeted: "Do you have a photo with a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD." The hashtag quickly took off when people began tweeting photos showing cops wrestling with demonstrators or swinging weapons at civilians. More than 70,000 people tweeted about police brutality, ridiculing the NYPD for a social media disaster and recalling the names of people shot dead by police.
Next day, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton gamely disputed that the effort was a failure, claiming he welcomed the images, and that sometimes police work isn't pretty. (He apparently had better issue management training than whoever thought up the NYPD #Fail.)
Then there was the notorious McDonalds Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories hoping to inspire: "heart-warming stories about Happy Meals." Instead, it attracted thousands of predictably negative responses. But, unlike the NY Police Commissioner, McDonalds admitted it: “Did not go as planned,” and pulled the plug after just two hours.
And who can forget when the Victorian Taxi Association in Australia invited passengers to share their personal taxi stories with #YourTaxis as part of a campaign to take on ride-sharing service Uber. The association received a torrent of horrors stories about smelly cabs, geographically-challenged drivers and worse. Taxi boss David Samuel said the campaign: “Did not match our intention,” and the association sacked the social media agency.
So, looking back, the question has to be why anyone today would STILL think such campaigns are a smart idea when the risk of reputational damage is so obvious. It might be easy to blame keen young social media mavens with no knowledge of history. But for senior managers who approve such imprudence, there is no excuse.
This series of blogs is written by CRJ Australian-based crisis expert, Dr Tony Jaques, Managing Director of Issue Outcomes Pty Ltd and a Member of CRJ’s regular international blogging team