Big brand social media blunders and lessons for #highered

shocked business woman“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is an adage that seems to hold true for big brands in social media these days. When big brands mishandle a situation in the social media sphere, the fallout can be significant for the companies.

But these failures hold valuable lessons for us in higher ed social media work. These situations, as they become magnified and amplified into full-blown crises by social media’s “Ever-Shifting Mob” (fellow higher ed blogger Dennis Miller‘s apt description), should serve as cautionary tales for all of us who deal with social media in the higher education.

Brandchannel recently dissected two recent big brand blunders:

  • The Applebee’s firestorm that occurred after the company fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt from a pastor who wrote on the bill, “”I give God 10% why do you get 18”; and
  • The out-of-control Twitter chatter that occurred in the UK when struggling music retailer HMV announced layoffs, which one of its social media managers live-tweeted.

(Hat tip to Kary Delaria, @KaryD, for sharing the Brandchannel post via Twitter.)

Social media and PR, integrated

Both situations contain important lessons about the importance of integrating social media and public relations functions during a crisis. But there are other issues at play here:

  • Respond quickly but thoughtfully. Speaking to Brandchannel, SHIFT Communications CEO Todd Defren advises to “respond immediately to show you’re listening, but that needn’t mean falling on the sword. Most reasonable folks just need to know you’re aware and pondering vs. reacting thoughtlessly. ‘We hear you and we’re thinking this through. We’ll get back to you’ is a placeholder for sanity.”
  • Manage your social media presence. A no-brainer, right? But the ultimate failure in both situations was a lack of organizational structure for handling a brewing social media crisis. “Crisis communications in social should be planning like a PR crisis: there should be both preparation and response,” Teresa Caro of Enguage told Brandchannel. “[B]rands must have an upfront plan that anticipates a reaction.”
  • Be transparent. It’s cliche, but true. “The essence of a strong relationship with customers is transparency,” said Frederick Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor. “In the case of a faux pas, do the right thing – acknowledge the issue and engage in sincere and honest dialog with the community.”

All great advice. But much of it boils down to 1.) integrating social and PR functions for any organization, 2.) planning and preparing for the inevitable social media dust-up, and 3.) management training and empowering the PR and social media team to respond in real time.

A year ago, I wrote about how the PR and social media functions in higher education should be integrated at all times — not just during a crisis situation. Maybe it’s time to revisit that topic for further discussion, and to see how far higher ed has come in a year.

P.S. – Another post worth reading on one of these crises is Dennis Miller’s A tip for Applebee’s. A higher ed PR veteran, Miller offers some good thoughts on how that corporation and its “sadly under-prepared management” might have handled the situation better.

Image courtesy of © Dead_morozzzka | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

4 thoughts on “Big brand social media blunders and lessons for #highered”

  1. You are right on. On your second point, I would mention that even though managing our social media presence (more specifically monitoring) should be a no-brainer, it’s not. In the survey I did for CASE last year, we found that only 56% of the higher eds that responded had a social media monitoring plan in place. Yikes. You can see the rest of the results here: (hope you don’t mind my sharing the link)

    1. Thanks, Chris. I do recall your survey (now, after the fact) and should have thought a bit more about the level at which social media monitoring actually does occur as opposed to how often it should occur. Thanks for sharing the link — please feel free to share great content here any time!

  2. I think it’s human fault: People will behave one way when they think nobody is looking, but another way in public. Companies have the same trait. When their “secret behavior’ is exposed, the results can be catastrophic.

  3. Good post, Andy, and thanks for the mention. Chris’ survey is sadly revealing and markd60 is right. For a lot of us in the business it’s always mildly shocking that people and companies think anything can be secret anymore.

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