Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Effects Of A SMFP (Social Media Faux Pas)

Did you see the US Airways porn tweet? The #myNYPD disaster? The Air Canada breaks suitcases video? OMG! WTF? #someonesgettingfired! #epicbrandfail!!

The list of accidental or intentional SMFPs (Social Media Faux Pas) is long and seems to be getting longer by the day. And they have become true multimedia events. That USAirways pic was covered extensively across all media, as was the NYPD and the Air Canada thing (in Canada).

All three are very different, but they all went viral and mainstream and were the talk of the town for, well… about 24 hours or so.

So how bad is this for brands? I went back in time through my amazing time machine (aka Google Search) in order to revisit some of the twit-storms from yesteryear and their impact on business.

In 2011, a tweet went out on the Chrysler Autos Twitter account that stated: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f….ing drive.” The person who tweeted this accidentally forgot to sign out of the corporate account he managed for Chrysler at agency New Media Strategies. He had meant to send it out on his personal Twitter account. The agency got fired by Chrysler.



Earlier this year, in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were targeted because of their involvement with the event in a country that isn’t exactly gay-friendly. McDonald’s Twitter hashtag of #cheerforsochi got highjacked with many messages stating support for the LGTB community and specifically not for McDonald’s.

And then there was Domino’s Pizza. In 2009 two Domino’s franchise employees posted what they considered a funny video of them doing rather unsavory things to Domino’s food. The two got fired and ended up with felony charges.

Surprisingly, Domino’s used this incident as a turning point for its whole business. Under the “Oh yes we did” banner, company strategists changed pretty much everything about their company, from recipes to websites and apps to training of their franchise employees. The whole change process has been played out very openly, and even formed the backbone of its entire marketing strategy. Its share price in 2009: a little over $9. Today it is close to $80.

So what are my lessons from these (at the time) exciting SMFPs?

1.     Ensure you have a clear (social) media policy in place, and make sure all employees (direct and indirect) are aware of it.

2.     Ensure you have a clear issue escalation plan in place. You won’t know what will hit you, but you should know who to contact up and down the chain when something does.

3.     Breathe! In most cases, it is not the end of the world. No need to knee-jerk. Get the facts, then act! Kudos to USAirways who (reportedly) didn’t fire anyone, as the porn-tweet was an honest mistake.

Chrysler is still selling cars. McDonald’s, Coke, Domino’s and most of the many others that have fallen victim to SMFPs are still around. Some have had to adjust their business or their digital approach as a result. But the event itself is often just that: an event. If it is especially juicy or a slow news day, it may go on for a bit. But ultimately it, too, will pass.

PS: I really wanted to call SMFPs “SMSSs” but that could have resulted in Online Spin having its own SMFP. I will leave it to you to figure SMSS out!

3 comments about "Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Effects Of A SMFP (Social Media Faux Pas)".
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  1. Peter Himler from Flatiron Communications, April 29, 2014 at 3:48 p.m.


    Thoughtful and timely post. One more bullet added to your list: have a social moderation firm in place that works in real-time and can scale with increased volume of both brand and consumer-generated posts/tweets. Prevent these ill-timed and conceived tweets/posts from languishing for more than 15 minutes. Try, for starters.


  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), April 29, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

    Peter: great addition, and fully agree. If you don't listen, the SMFP will be on your radar (too) late, and your reaction strategy will be impacted as a result.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 7, 2014 at 12:56 p.m.

    A porn twit is not the same as an innocent spelling twit. An irresponsible twit proves that he/she cannot be trusted in a public sense so a release of duties is called for. Too many inconsequential minutae are being absorbed by so many people that a flub doesn't have to destroy a company especially if it is not a specifically targeted insult.

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