Social Media Mistakes Companies Make, and How They Reflect Corporate Values: Part 3 in our Social Media & Values Series

Amber Johnson Care for people, Ethics, Strategy

This is the third in a four part series. For the previous entries (which featured the American Red Cross, Nestle, Vodafone, Motrin, and Chevrolet) please click here or here

In previous entries, we’ve explored how consumer use of Facebook and Twitter – often the ally of big corporate brands – can also be a source of headaches when the wrong message reaches the wrong audience. Often, what catches the consumer’s attention is a circumstance that is contrary to the image or values the product is usually expected to display.

That’s exactly what happened in the two examples below, from the fast food and travel industries. When consumer expectations aren’t met, and local staff aren’t responsive, isolated circumstances become public nightmares for strong brands. Here are two examples:

5. Fast Food Restaurants | Lesson 5: Don’t Make Mom Mad

Businesses of all sizes need to learn the lesson children master by age four: don’t make mom mad. The Mommy Blogger industry is one of the most vocal on the web, powered by a force of educated, passionate women who text, tweet, update, and blog with ferocity.

As in the Motrin case previously discussed, making mothers mad can have detrimental side effects. This became evident earlier this year when Erin Carr-Jordan, a New York resident and mother, crawled through a McDonald’s PlayPlace and found it to be filthy – not an intended outcome for an organization that places the customer experience at the top of their values. After several calls to the manager yielded no results, Carr-Jordan filmed the filth and posted it to YouTube.

Carr-Jordan, who is a mother of four and a developmental psychologist, has since engaged in a crusade to improve playground sanitation at McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants, citing Burger King and Chik Fil A specifically. Spokespeople from these fast food giants have shared their companies’ cleaning polices, and explain Carr-Jordan’s discoveries as anomalies.

But comments from the PR department can’t prevent parents from forming an opinion on a restaurant’s sanitation. And parents vote with their dollars. In the age of social media, local restaurant staff need extra training on how to prevent a negative social media campaign by being responsive to customer concerns: especially when the topic is the safety of children.

Even so, you can’t always prevent videos and other messages about your company from going viral: you can choose how you respond. Fast food restaurants would do well to launch aggressive sanitation campaigns and engage mothers in evaluating the results.Where the safety of children is concerned, mobilize quickly to make real improvements, and get mother’s back on your side.

6. United Airlines | Lesson 6: Use Your Mistakes to Train Your Team

Here’s another example of how local staff can prevent a social media nightmare: When Canadian musician Dave Carroll’s $3500 Taylor guitar was broken during a United Airlines flight, he tried all the normal customer service channels in an attempt to receive compensation. When those failed, he wrote a song, United Breaks Guitars, and posted it to YouTube.

The song had over 150,000 views in one day, and went on to become one of the most viral videos of 2009. As of early this month, the country song with its catchy tune had been viewed over 11 million times.

United Airlines was understandably repentant, and made a formal apology and a $3000 donation to a music non-profit in Carroll’s name. Even better, they asked Carroll an important question: can we use your video to train our customer service employees? For his part, Carroll has turned his catchy tune into a career in customer service coaching. Learn more at this link.

Thanks to their thoughtful response, United flipped an unfortunate social media incident into a learning opportunity around a core value: hospitality.

Want to learn more about social media mistakes and their connection to corporate values? Return here on Dec. 6th for the next in our series.


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