Social media mishaps: 3 very different case studies.Posted on Fri Jul 31 2009
The good news? The backlash is usually short-lived. But that doesn’t make it any easier on the companies having to deal with an unruly, unforgiving online mob.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a few high-profile flaps that can teach us all some lessons about how to manage or even avoid these kinds of nightmare scenarios.
After the jump, we walk through what happened, why it exploded and how companies reacted (for better or worse):
1. “Nikon Hates Babies”
It’s hard to imagine your brand name being saddled with a worse phrase than “hates babies,” especially when the criticism is undeserved. (Though it’s hard to imagine a company there's a company out there that goes out of its way to hate babies.)
The backstory: At the massive BlogHer conference in Chicago last week, Nikon hosted a swank soiree called “Nikon Night Out with Carson Kressley.” Lots of attendees were psyched about the event, and it looks like it was quite the VIP affair.
The problem: As one mom prepared to board the limo en route to the event, she was told that she couldn’t bring her baby. She posted the following frustrated message on Twitter:
She later said she meant the “nikonhatesbabies” tag as a joke, but it was quickly replicated by many other Twitter users. Another mom had a similar experience. Soon Nikon was in damage control mode as BlogHer attendees and non-attendees alike spread the message.
The defense: As Nikon’s agency explains on its blog, “Due to the time of the event, the noise level, the availability of alcohol and the proximity to water, we determined that from a safety perspective, children should not attend.”
And from what I can tell, it sounds like Nikon’s representatives did everything they could to explain their side, especially considering they were hosting a massive event just as the debate was erupting in real time on Twitter.
The lesson: It’s easy for me to sit here and say that Nikon’s folks could have done better, but I’m not sure they could have. Yes, they should have communicated the no-kids rule a bit more comprehensively up front, but they’ve noted that this was not a “mom blogger” event; it was an event for women who love photography (and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”). That said, it’s another set of considerations we should all keep in mind when creating events that are designed for blogging women from all walks of life.
2. "EAFail" (aka "Sin to Win")
The backstory: To promote its upcoming game, Dante’s Inferno, Electronic Arts created a contest called "Sin to Win" at the huge Comic-Con gathering in San Diego. Participants were invited to submit a photograph of themselves committing “an act of lust” on the event’s scantily clad “booth babes.”
The problem: What part of this idea isn’t a problem? Even setting aside discussions of common decency, it seems bizarre that EA would so willingly alienate female gamers like my friend and AdFreak colleague Rebecca Cullers.
It wasn’t long before the term “EAFail” was being bounced all over the Web, far outpacing any positive publicity the contest might have generated.
The defense: I personally find this one indefensible, but here’s what the game’s promoters had to say:
We apologize for any confusion and offense that resulted from our choice of wording, and want to assure you that we take your concerns and sentiments seriously. We'll continue to follow your comments and please let us know if you have any other thoughts or concerns. Keep watching as the event unfolds and we hope you'll agree that it was all done in the spirit of the good natured fun of Comic-Con.
This quasi-apology was posted on TwitPic, a Twitter-based picture hosting service, where one woman hilariously replied: “Aww, it's okay. We know, you just can't help your ongoing promotion of rape culture. No big.”
In another hilarious twist, the organizers tried (and failed) to save face by awarding some of the winnings to an openly gay gamer who sent in a photo of him with a burly military man.
The lesson: Every year, lovers of Comic-Con struggle to escape the stereotypes of nerdy guys in costume, drooling over large-breasted women in fantasy garb. So why would any company reinforce that largely false image while also alienating an entire gender in one fell swoop?
I suppose the lesson is: Knowing your audience means playing to their strengths, not playing to their stereotypes. Give them something to talk about, something to take ownership of — and preferably something that won’t get them tossed in the San Diego Central Jail.
3. Murphy-Goode’s Bad Idea
I should start by saying that the first bottle of wine I ever truly loved was a Murphy-Goode Fumé Blanc back in the mid-1990s. So I was especially saddened to see them in the throes of a social media controversy.
The backstory: In June, the winery launched a search for a new online spokesperson. Applicants posted videos on YouTube explaining why they would be the best pick, while online visitors were asked to vote for their favorites.
The problem: Of the 2,000 or so applicants, the most popular by far was Martin Sargent, a former TechTV personality who has hosted several comedy podcasts. (He’s currently a co-host of “This Week in Fun” on TWiT.tv.)
But despite his sizeable lead, Sargent was mysteriously absent from the list of contest finalists. His fans — and tremendously influential friends like Digg founder Kevin Rose and mega-podcaster Leo LaPorte — got pretty ticked at seeing so many votes go essentially uncounted.
The defense: Murphy-Goode reportedly told Sargent that he was “too famous” and “overqualified” for the job, despite the fact that the finalists did include a former host from HGTV and Animal Planet.
It sounds like the real problem was that, despite the buzz about voting for your favorites, the winery chose to base its decision on other, more ambiguous factors:
"Yeah, we screwed up," said Caroline Shaw, senior vice president at Jackson Family Enterprises and a winery spokeswoman.
But Shaw added that the promotion "was never intended to be a contest" - which are illegal for alcoholic beverages under California law. Finalists were weighed on writing samples and other "background materials." That went for Sargent, too.
"He was great," Shaw said. "But you've got to look at a broader perspective of issues when you're hiring someone."
The lesson: If you’re going to empower the masses for a promotional effort, you’d best be prepared to do what the mob says. Otherwise, you’d better have some good reasons why not.
In this case, it sounds like Murphy-Goode simply decided that silence was the best answer. That’s an approach that might have worked in the many years before I had that first glass of Fumé Blanc, but not today.