Saturday, December 5, 2009

Branded Social Media Disasters

While the success stories of brands and social media surface daily throughout the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, there are just as many nightmares that are damaging the reputations of brands regularly.

It has taken a while, as large and small brands are just now waking up to the fact that the world of user-generated media can make or break a brand when it fails to deliver on service or product. Since social media drives transparency in a very meaningful way, it forces companies to take a much more collaborative approach in resolving customer service issues... because when they falter...they can fall hard...and unfortunately end up on a list like this.

United Airlines: Not a Guitar Hero!

In the spring of 2008, Dave and Don Carroll of the Sons of Maxwell, a Halifax-based pop-folk group were flying to Nebraska for a one-week tour. In Chicago O'Hare, Dave witness his Taylor guitar being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers while on route. Upon arrival, he discovered the $3500 instrument was severely damaged.

For nine long months, while United Arilines did not deny the damage, the blame was basically past off on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate him for his loss. So in retaliation, Dave promised the last United staff member he spoke to (Ms. Irlweg ) that he would write and produce three songs about his negative experience with the airline and post YouTube videos for each to be viewed online by anyone and everyone. "United: Song 1" is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is forth coming as well. It’s a great David and Goliath story that shows how the little guy can take on an indifferent corporate giant and win. Dave's first song titled "United Breaks Guitars" has racked up a phenominal 4.5 million views on YouTube:

Comcast: Asleep at the Switch!

When a Comcast cable technician visited a customer's residence to replace a faulty modem, he spent an hour on hold with his home office, only to fall asleep on the customer's couch. This was followed up by another three weeks that problem continue to go unresolved. In turn, the customer posted this video on YouTube capturing the technician doing what he does best... sleeping on the job!!

UPDATE: After 1.3 million visitors watched the video online, the customer's service was finally restored.

Domino's Pizza: No Way To Top It Off!

In a video posted on YouTube, a Domino’s employee in Conover, N.C., prepared sandwiches for delivery by inserting cheese up his nose and applying nasal mucus on sandwiches, while a fellow employee provided a running commentary. In a few days, thanks to the power of social media, they ended up with felony charges, more than a million disgusted viewers, and a major company facing a public relations crisis. Needless to say these employees are no longer making any dough!

Motrin: Headaches from Baby Slingers!

Motrin posted a YouTube ad suggesting that carrying babies in baby-slings was a painful new fad, inferring that their pain medication might be needed.

Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it and their own YouTube video response.

Bloggers soon followed and within days, Motrin removed the ad and apologized. Some argue the moms were over-reacting, but by Motrin not testing its copy with this target audience up front – it left itself wide open for the 'wisdom of crowds' to regulate what they felt was not an acceptable promotion. Don't Rank with the Gays and Lesbians! apologized for an error in judgement after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared. Although reports of the prejudicial databasing had been circulating since February, few were paying attention until blogger Mark Probst wrote a post about the phenomenon in April.

Adding insult to injury, the following listing was still available on's site during this time period:

Amazon listing on Preventing Homosexuality

Amazon listing on Preventing Homosexuality

Additionally, despite being an Internet pioneer, Amazon's approach to Twitter is disappointing. The e-commerce giant uses a 'Twitter bot' to automatically publish excerpts from its US blog. These tweets add little value beyond that of a standard RSS feed. It does not show the online book retailer trying to interact with their customers. Maybe, now the company has acquired Zappos, they can take a lesson or two out of that company's exceptional customer-service techniques on Twitter.

Habitat Furniture Company:
Getting caught piggy-backing!

The stylish furniture maker Habitat jumped on the Twitter bandwagon in a big way but was exposed for spamming. Its self-promoting tweets that included popular trending topics to attract attention. And if including a hashtag# for a popular HBO drama like "True Blood" wasn't enough, the company actually took advantage of the misfortunes of others by including "Mousavi" and the "Iran Election" on tweet updates as well.

Habitat Furniture SPAM tweets

Habitat Furniture SPAM tweets

Retaliating against this form of 'parasite marketing,' the Twitterverse struck back by exposing the practice to Twitter's SPAM department. The posts that also included "iPhone" have been completely removed from the site.

Alex Burmaster, communications director at research firm Nielsen Online, said while some
companies had succeeded in the art of advertising within social networking sites, Habitat had got it wrong. Habitat have said in a statement that it "would like to make a very sincere apology to any users who were offended by their (inappropriate behavior) on Twitter".Habitat also stressed that the posts were carried out without the company's consent and the individual responsible is "no longer associated with Habitat".

Belkin: Pays for Play!

Belkin's lead online sales rep, Michael Bayard was found secretly paying Internet users to review his company's products favorably on and Newegg, whether or not they've ever used the devices. Bayard instructed the people he was paying to "write as if you own the product and are using it... (and) mark any other negative reviews as 'not helpful' once you post yours." Ironically, he was using Amazon's own Mechanical Turk service to hire his fraudsters, and offered to pay them a whopping $0.65 cents to write a 'postive 5/5 review.'

Belkin request on Amazon for reviews

Belkin request on Amazon for reviews

Confidence in a brand's products is shaken when customers learn the reviews they're reading aren't truly consumer-generated. Belkin in turn acted swiftly to 're-instill trust' when Mark Reynoso, Belkin's president claimed responsibility:
  • "We've acted swiftly to remove all associated postings from the Mechanical Turk system. We're working closely with our online channel partners to ensure that any reviews that may have been placed due to these postings have been removed."

EASYJET: Failed to Seize their Handle!

EasyJet failed to embrace Twitter as an early adopter, a decision they came to regret as a result of the amount of negative feedback they received. @easyjetservice was not the budget airline's official presence but rather an annoyed customer airing his grievances online about the airline.

EasyJetService on Twitter

EasyJetService on Twitter

The disgruntled passenger was not well followed (with only 377 followers), but their Twitter feed only needed to capture the attention of one fellow disgruntled traveler to become a problem for EasyJet... and it did.

While it doesn't appear that the company was ever able to remove these negative accounts from the Twitter system, EasyJet did take matters into their own hands by securing their own account under the name '@easyJetCare.' Now it can go about the job of rebuilding its reputation.

EasyJetCare Twitter account
EasyJetCare Twitter account

Quiznos: Video Subs for X-Rated Porn?

Quiznos Subs has been known for some desperate marketing stunts in the past, but the recent “2 Girls, 1 Sub” viral video is likely to go down as one of their worst decisions. The questionable video which was developed as a spoof created so much negative reaction that Quiznos officially denied having any affiliation with the video, stating that it did not authorize it nor pay for its placement. The jury is still out as to whether or not this is a Quiznos marketing fail or if it really was produced without their sanctioning. Regardless, Quiznos’ loss of brand control has made a lot of people think twice before ordering their next oven-baked sub.

In an economy where there’s a growing amount of competition for a smaller and smaller piece of the pie, excellence in customer service becomes an issue of survival. It’s not always about having the fanciest or the techiest or the best Web 2.0 systems. Sometimes it’s as simple as creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued. Losing customers because a brand did not take heed of the social media environment we live in is lack of foresight. In today's transparent world, it's more important to double-think each online activity we engage in and live our brand's dream versus incur the wrath of our customers who are only one tweet or fan-page away of making our lives a living nightmare.