A slip up by a small hamburger restaurant is perhaps understandable but multinationals have a habit of sticking
their social media feet firmly down their throats too.
Step up chocolate giant Nestle.
On Sunday night, the Twitter account of Crunch Mexico, used to spruik Nestle's chocolate bar, tweeted: "A los de
Ayotzinapa les dieron Crunch".
The phrase refers to a slang term used when someone is beaten up and loosley translates: "Those from Ayotzinapa were crushed".
Ayotzinapa refers to the killing, burning and burying of 43 students who went missing on 26 September near Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.
The tweet sparked calls for a boycott of Nestle products on social media.
A Nestle spokesman told The Independent newspaper: "We have apologised for this completely unacceptable tweet which is entirely contrary to the values of our company.
"We deeply regret any distress it may have caused. We understand and share the public's concern about this post. We take this matter extremely seriously."
It remains unclear if the Twitter account was hacked.
Either way, it is crucial for any organisation to have a policy setting out how it should engage on social media.
Key features should include a set of guiding principles:
Faster than a speeding bullet – with social media there’s no stopping the speeding locomotive of anger
For Ferguson, a blow-by-blow account was posted just two minutes after the shooting took place. One person who claimed to witness the shooting immediately took to Twitter to post details and photos. A 10-minute video was also posted to YouTube captured Michael Brown’s body and police standing around it.
A decade ago a shooting of an unarmed young black man may have received national press coverage, most likely the following day and would have run as long as editors deemed it newsworthy. Today it can turn into an international story instantly and will run for as long the public cares.
Don’t underestimate the power of Twitter.
Downplaying the event and restricting information is no longer possible in the age of social media.
Such fast and free information available to the entire world has never been possible before.
Not only does this escalate the coverage and attention to the issue, but it ensures restriction of information is not possible.
The Ferguson local police did not comprehend this. They delayed releasing details and clarifying the circumstances of the shooting, even as feelings of resentment about a potential cover-up escalated in the community around them.
A huge error was also made by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson by releasing the name of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, and then later the same day, releasing footage of what is assumed to be Brown robbing a corner store shortly before he was killed.
Not only is this obvious attempt at character assassination unhelpful, but releasing these details on the same day can be interpreted as the police attempting to justify Officer Wilson’s actions.
Before social media such mistakes might not have received as much attention and such a PR disaster may have been avoidable, but with the invention of Twitter it is hard to get anything past the public.
Twitter has become an early-warning service for news outlets and has a strange, potent quality that can ramp up any issue.
My advice: lean in to the power of Twitter, and make it your own.
By Benjamin Haslem
Your choice of words and the emotional response it elicits in the reader can either make your message highly effective or a disaster.
The meme at left was posted by a friend on Facebook.
It was originally posted by a group called Young Mums.
I am the father of a boy who is severely allergic to peanuts. He has to carry an epipen with him. One peanut consumed, without a shot of adrenaline from the epipen, could kill him. Thankfully, we have never had to use the epipen.
So I came to the meme with a certain lack of objectivity.
I am also a passionate opponent of the anti-vaccination movement, which poses a grave risk to public health.
My initial take on the meme was one of anger. To my eyes it was cheapening the risk posed to some children by peanuts.
The words "because someone might be allergic" smacks of condescension or a sense that people are being put out or inconvenienced, especially when contrasted with the message below.
It also suggests the danger posed by peanuts is not very high or even exaggerated.
However, my friend argued that he read it as along the lines of (to paraphrase) "why is it that as a school community we can organise to ensure our playgrounds are safe for kids with peanut allergies but we can't make parents vaccinate their kids?".
That's a reasonable interpretation for someone who doesn't have a child with a peanut allergy.
But the problem with the meme is that the choice of language doesn't convey that message.
By Benjamin Haslem
Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been dealing with a crisis over the taste of its milk products for a number of months.
Consumers had been returning the company's products en masse, complaining about a "funny taste" and issues with the milk going off before the expiration date stamped on containers.
Despite hiring consultants, replacing equipment, firing staff and a invoving a dairy scientist, the problem
continued. This was serious issue for the brand.
Once the issue was solved, CEO Jeff Kleinpeter posted a message on YouTube explaining the problem and the
By Isabelle Walker
How is it an era where Twitter is king company protocols (like no refunds) can still trump human emotion and graciousness? Camper Travel learned this the hard way today, scrambling into damage control after asking a customer to prove the death of his wife, and then refusing the refund anyway. This starkly contrasted with Virgin Australia’s approach to the situation, which can only be hailed as best practice.
If there is one thing that can truly inspire faith in the human race, it is compassion, grace and understanding in the wake of a horrible tragedy. Conversely, the opposite can prompt one to all but lose faith in humanity.
There were two examples of this over the weekend when Mr Rob Armstrong, widower to shark attack victim Christine Armstrong, had to cancel their upcoming trip camping trip from Darwin to Adelaide in July.
In a public relations nightmare for any company, an inadequately trained staff member informed Mr Armstrong that proof of his wife’s death would be necessary to proceed with the cancellation. The employee even suggested Mr Armstrong send through a news article to confirm his wife had indeed been the victim of a shark attack. To add insult to serious injury, after it was confirmed that Mr Armstrong was telling the truth, the company informed him he would not be refunded anyway.
It was not about the money, Mr Armstrong said, but that he was “cancelling all our bookings as a matter of courtesy”. It was only after he had received the unfathomable correspondence from Camper Travel, compared with the compassionate response of another travel company that he realised just how “completely immoral and unconscionable” Camper Travel’s reaction had been.
The ‘other’ travel company was Virgin Airlines, who, after receiving Mr Armstrong’s cancellation requests, “immediately” replied with a compassionate email offering the full refund of their cancelled tickets. Obviously, this is the expected response, not just of a well-managed brand but also as an act of human kindness.
Although when coming from a PR perspective on these types of ill-managed matters, you tend to ask how any firm could be so unprepared for a situation which warrants so obvious a response. Nonetheless, it was a PR disaster that Camper Travel’s Managing Director scrambled to ameliorate today, finally reimbursing Mr Armstrong and admitting his company policy fell short of what should be expected.
Let’s hope they learn from their mistakes.
By Benjamin Haslem
The recent decision by the Biennale of Sydney to reject private sponsorship from Transfield is another example of doing something because it makes you feel good and not because it will deliver any tangible benefits.
I've lost count of the number of times I've cautioned a client against taking a particular course of action with the words: "It may make you feel good but...".
When planning any communication activity it is important to understand who your stakeholders are, their interests in an issue, their expectations, their level of influence and how they are likely to react to particular actions.
By Benjamin Haslem
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is a tragedy.
But it is also a text book example of how a poor response to a crisis in the first few hours can set the tone for the days that follow and derail any crisis communications effort.
From the perspective of many relatives in Beijing, desperately hoping against hope that their loved ones are alive or at worst wanting to know where the downed Boeing Triple-7 has crashed, the airline has treated them appallingly.
In the first 24 hours of the crisis, some media reported Chinese relatives of passengers aboard the plane had accused the airline of failing to keep them informed.
Reuters reported that "relatives were taken to a hotel near Beijing airport, put in a room and told to wait for information from the airline, but none came".
"There's no one from the company here, we can't find a single person. They've just shut us in this room and told us to wait," one relative said.
"We want someone to show their face. They haven't even given us the passenger list," he said.
Another relative was more direct: "They're treating us worse than dogs".
Chinese media criticised the airline for taking so long to announce what was happening and for refusing to answer questions.
"Malaysia Airlines, why did you wait for five hours after losing contact with the aircraft to first announce the news, and why did you only have a news conference after almost 13 hours?" the official Xinhua news agency wrote on one of its Weibo accounts.
Three days later and from the relatives' perspective little has improved.
Coca Cola's 60-second commercial aired during Sunday's Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast is, you would think, to most casual observers, beautiful.
The #AmericaIsBeautiful video is a celebration of the USA's rich cultural melting pot and spectacular and diverse landscape.
But it seems not everyone in the US agrees.
The advertisement begins with a female voice singing the US patriotic song America The Beautiful as a cowboy on a white steed emerges from a wilderness pine forest. Cut to a view across a lake to snow capped mountains, more pine forests in the middle ground, and you start getting the sense this ad wants to tap into viewers' patriotism.
A quick shot of the cowboy rubbing his ride's nose seems to confirm this. So far, no products in site (unless they're selling white horses).
Then things change. We're confronted with a tight shot of a woman's face in a cinema as she blows a pink ball of bubble gum. As American as apple pie.
But the singer has changed. And so has the language. It's not English! It's Spanish. From this point each line of the song is delivered in a different language, popping back into English at one point before climaxing with "from sea to shining sea" in English.
Coke has copped a blizzard of criticism in the States since the ad was aired. Most of it is simply too racist to repeat here but needless to say the soft drink giant has been called to task for messing with such an iconic American song.
The Tweet below is a good representation of the type of response Coke elicited. Public Shaming has a gallery of responses.
As I wrote about recently, using patriotic icons in a marketing campaign is a high-risk endeavour, especially if you're going to tamper with them. It risks a major PR disaster. It seems in the US, that risk is multiplied significantly.
Coca-Cola should have done a risk analysis on this. Maybe they tried it on focus groups and no one complained. Perhaps the Twitter trolls only represent less than one per cent of viewers and more than that will be won over to or stay with Coke.
Or maybe Coke should have played it safe.
Either way, they're getting a lot of publicity and all for the wrong reasons.
(Interestingly, the ad also includes two gay men ice skating with their daughter, though that seems to have been missed by the critics. LGBT media advocacy organisation, GLADD, said it was the first Super Bowl as to feature a gay family and called it a "step forward for the advertising industry".)
By Benjamin Haslem
A crucial element of any media conference performance is ensuring you are properly prepared and have practised.
In our media training we stress that clients ensure they are across all the facts and issues; have prepared their key messages and asked colleagues or their communications manager to simulate a few mock press conferences.
Another important thing to remember is that if you have limited time, tell the journalists before hand.
Reporters don't like being told by you when the media conference is over, especially during a crisis. They think that's their call.
Calling time after only a few minutes looks like you're scared, have something to hide and are running away.
Unfortunately, from the video below, Gary Southern, the president of Freedom Industries, wasn't aware of this.
Go to around 5:15 minutes into the video and watch as he tries to duck away, only for a TV Reporter to call him back.
By way of background, Freedom Industries is the company responsible for the West Virginia chemical leak in the United States that contaminated water used by 300,000 local residents.
Expect Gary to be appearing soon in media training programs, along side the hapless Jaymes Diaz and Rick Perry.
1. Is Social Media Stifling Political Debate?