Like the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” In the social media world, this can be revised a bit to, “You can start a conversation with a horse, but you can’t control what he will say.”
That is a lesson companies often learn the hard way – they try to engage with customers in social media, but don’t always get the expected results. I’ve seen this happen a few times, most notably with McDonald’s and Sears. I also watched a Father’s Day promotion go south quickly….
In the case of McDonald’s, an unsuspecting hash tag steered the conversation in the wrong direction. In an attempt to share positive stories about the company, McDonald’s posted two tweets with the hashtag #McDStories. Here’s how the conversation started:
Things quickly took an unexpected turn, as people started to tell their own story that didn’t quite match what McDonald’s was hoping for. Topics ranged from poor customer service, to people referencing drug use and other not so happy stories related to the company. The conversation went viral and the New York Observer got wind of it. Additionally, the conversation turned to a PETA issue, which further fueled the fire. They were able to change the hashtag to better focus the conversation in the end, and the crisis eventually faded away.
Sandusky Father’s Day Package
One social media manager was horrified when she realized the potential ramifications of a Father’s Day promotion posted on the company’s Twitter account. This innocent seeming tweet was posted to encourage people to book a Father’s Day vacation:
Given the fact that the Sandusky trial was a hot topic, this hashtag was trending heavily, and users were confused by the suggestion of a “Sandusky” Father’s Day package offering. Feedback was quickly offered from users, slamming the poor choice of a hashtag. The company quickly realized the error of its ways, but not before it went viral and made headlines.
Sears recently threw out a seemingly innocent question on their Facebook page: “What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave a friend while shopping at Sears?” Great question, right?
Hopefully they were prepared for reality and realized that not everyone was going to share positive experiences and advice that fell into line with what Sears wanted to hear. They did get great interaction – 62 responses in a short period of time. And, while some of the responses were generally positive, quite a few were, um, not quite what they wanted I’m sure. Here’s a sampling of some of the less than happy posters:
- don’t ??
- Dont’ spend ur money on over price clothes
- Go to Walmart
- Go to Kohl’s
- Don’t buy at sears you get screwed every time!
- Leave, leave now!
I think any company who engages in social media should realize that there will be “haters” that will make snide comments and give not so good reviews – that’s just human nature. We all know that social media users do not simply focus on brands they love – there is a percentage that likes to stir the pot online or share their negative feedback. Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s U.S.A. said it best: “You don’t control things. You can only hope to steer things in certain directions.”
You certainly don’t want to control the conversation either; you want people to share their thoughts and get the conversation going. In the case of Sears, while there were quite a few negative comments, there were many users in support of the company. Also, the negative comments can give a company insight into what dissatisfied customers are thinking; if they’re not actively monitoring social media, watching these conversations can serve as a starting point for gauging customer sentiment and online reputation.
Before throwing out a conversation, it’s important to think it through and troubleshoot how it will be taken in the general public, and what you may need to do if things spiral out of control. Similarly, use caution when creating hashtag – do some research and brainstorming prior to putting the conversation out there to the public; while it won’t always go in the way you intend it to, at least you can hopefully avoid some major issues and/or negative press that trends in social media so there is no damage control needed.