Examples of Social Media Damage Control


So the marketing plan is to embrace social media albeit in a traditional lets scratch someone’s back and hope they scratch ours kind of way. The agency will contact a group of prominent bloggers within the regional market they’re targeting using social media outlets like twitter, facebook etc to narrow down their list and to harvest the contact details. Then they will send out emails offering said bloggers a gift package featuring The Product plus a few luxuries to help wash it down. Awesome social-media-cum-direct-marketing-cum-quid-pro-quo strategy! Lattes all round. Except there are one or two things that you have overlooked.

For starters the email reads like spam. It’s cold, has no personal information or even a real name. Of the bloggers only a handful actually receive the email, the rest having been gobbled up by their ever reliable spam filters. One of the bloggers reads it and deletes it. Bad. Another blogger’s reaction is worse. She writes a blog post declaring you a spammer and announces it on twitter. Within minutes several thousand people have read the post. To make matters worse, the technically-minded blogger has traced the return email address and it turns out that the technicians haven’t set it up properly causing all mail to bounce. More evidence you’re a spammer. What we’re looking at here is a major PR Disaster!

So what do you do? Fortunately your team has been monitoring the blogs – waiting expectantly for the gushing praise about The Product. They’ve also kept their eye on the other social media platforms. So when word breaks about the spammer allegation you and your team read the post. The obvious thing to do is to post a reply. The smart thing to do is to use that ever present social media device: the telephone. You contact the blogger and explain the problem. You even kick the technician’s behinds and get the return address working. Spammers don’t do that. The blogger is understanding. Posts an update. Announces it on twitter. Then you post a blog reply explaining the situation. What started as a PR disaster is now a social media win. The follow-up blog posts sing your praises…and The Product’s too. Maybe this social media thing isn’t so bad after all.

Or maybe it isn’t your agency or your department that caused the problem. Maybe it was the legal department that sent out a series of cease-and-desist letters to a group of enthusiast bloggers demanding that they either pay a hefty licensing fee or close their blogs – and sacrificing their domain names (which feature your trademarks) in the process. That’s what the Digg story says anyway. Reddit too. In fact you wake one morning to discover the blogosphere alive with chatter denouncing your prominent brand for crushing the meek and mild enthusiasts with your mighty corporate foot.

So what do you do? Firstly, most of the aggregator sites are pointing to one particular blog – not one of the contentious ones – that seems to have broken the story. The first item of business for that morning is to leave a reply on the blog post indicating that you’re someone in charge at the foot-crushing brand. You explain that you’re not happy about what has happened and that you’ll look into the situation and will update when you know more. Fortunately, yours is the second reply on the post and most people who read the story will also see your comment.

As it turns out, the legal department letters are entirely proper and stem from the fact that the bloggers are selling illegal merchandise featuring your brand on their site – yeah they failed to tell anybody that bit. So as you discover more you provide further updates in the comments of the blog that broke the story, plus a few others that also reported it. Even better, the main article is altered to include your updated information. Your brand has gone from evil thug to protecting the consumer from fake merchandise. And all it took was telling your side of the story. Maybe having a corporate blog would make that easier. Hmmm.

Although I’ve changed some of the details these are actually based on real life situations. The details of the first one (the email that went wrong) can be found here and the second one (corporate thug or consumer protector) can be found here.

Update: More details about the first one including a video. Very cool. And here’s a case study (pdf) of what happened in the real second situation. Very interesting reading. Kudos to Scott Monty and Ron Ploof.

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.

He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.

Connect with him on Twitter or Google Plus.

Tags: , , ,
Post Under Marketing, Social Media December 12, 2008
  • Hmm…the second story sounds mildly familiar… 😉

    Thanks for posting these lessons. It was a wild ride, but it worked out well. Would a corporate blog been more effective? Maybe. But I still would have had to post the URL on every site that covered it. The way we handled it, we responded in full context of the original incorrect posts.

    Then again…maybe a hybrid model would work (pun intended).

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

    • LOL. It does. Well done btw.

      I’d suggest that the main advantage of the corporate blog in this instance is that it becomes a central repository for you to link to. Yes, you still have to link to it but you only have to link once and then update your blog as the information becomes clearer. As opposed to multiple comments that may get buried in the deluge thereby diluting their effectiveness. A corporate blog also has the advantage of allowing the aggregation sites themselves to pick up the response, as well as being a focal point for people who have heard of the story but don’t know the particulars – I’ll check Ford to see what they have to say.

      Just some thoughts. Thank you for your comment.


  • I never really thought about scratching others’ backs so they would come over and scratch mine. But I like that kind of thinking! Very qool!

    I find that I will have NOTHING to blog about if I didn’t go out there to see how people work and play. When I am bored again I will go do some fund-raising for the poor. And then go back to what I was doing.

    Travelling is a must but it’s a luxury that I WON’T spend on myself every year.

    What am I rambling on here! Omigod! Let’s tweet – it’s only 140 characters!! >,<

    kelly’s last blog post..qutequte: @Skribe Yay that means my guess is right! I like your title cos it’s very ‘un-corporate’!! Lord God of the Universe! Very creative!