Social media has become a necessity for cultivating brand awareness, engaging with the public, and encouraging customer loyalty. Yet, it also has the potential to result in a public relations nightmare. Online communication is under an intense amount of scrutiny and a disastrous Tweet can’t be swept under the rug due to the sheer volume of individuals who will view it. Plus, there is the possibility of going viral. Comments that aren’t thought out, hackers, a rogue employee, and a lack of social media savvy can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation. Businesses must allocate resources for social media education, enhance their account security, and control the image they project. There are several high profile social media mistakes businesses can use as a “what not to do” primer.
According to 9News, Progressive Insurance came under fire when a woman was killed in a car accident with an uninsured driver in Maryland. State law required that her family take the responsible driver to court in order to receive a payment from Progressive. Progressive allegedly dodged the family when they tried to settle the woman’s insurance policy. Her brother, Matt Fisher, claimed that the defense’s lawyer was from Progressive Insurance. Fisher felt that Progressive did this in an attempt to avoid paying out his sister’s policy. It was later confirmed that Progressive was not representing the driver, however, they failed to disclose that a lawyer for the company was serving as a third party in court to deny the Fishers’ claims.
Unfortunately for Progressive, Fisher, a comedian, created a blog detailing his family’s treatment at the hands of the insurance company. Whether or not Progressive was within the law and the facts were 100% accurate, did not deter Internet users from attacking Progressive’s social media pages. Instead of crafting a heartfelt, personal response, Progressive replied with a generic, auto-tweet that claimed it handled its “contractual obligation.” Drivers were appalled by the cold, choice of words and Progressive had to scramble to settle the case and conduct damage control to preserve its image as the friendly neighborhood insurer. Using the phrase “contractual obligation” and continuously tweeting legalese did nothing to gain customer sympathies. The incident went viral and Progressive was faced with millions of angry policyholders.
Jonathan Hoster tweeted a negative comment concerning New York-based grocery store chain, Price Chopper. Hoster compared the store to its competitor, Wegman’s. Price Chopper tracked down Hoster and contacted his employer asking that he be fired from his job. When Hoster discovered that Price Chopper had gone to these lengths over what it deemed to be an inappropriate tweet, the chain’s actions were broadcast on social media. The supermarket would have been wise to respond to Hoster’s tweet, inquire as to how they could improve their service, and take the steps to rectify the situation. Public relations company, Ithaca Public Relations wrote, “That kind of engagement builds loyalty to your business and helps you establish its brand as a caring company that’s loyal and committed to its customers and fans.”
Every day more social media disasters come to light. While these two are extreme examples of Internet failure, even modest mistakes come with a price. Both companies lost existing and potential customers, tarnished their reputations, and had to go to great lengths to try to rebuild relationships. The bottom line is that social media must be used appropriately and responsibly by well-trained professionals, messages should be personal, particularly responses to public relations incidents, and online reputation management has to be a priority. Social media best practices are the centerpiece of any online marketing strategy and harnessing the power of the Internet in a way that enhances customer engagement will have a significant impact on a business’s return on investment.