Social Media Disaster Scenarios

In December 2011, just before The Social Media Mind, my book on social media came out, I spent a week feverishly working on a video on social media disasters, going through literally hundreds of cases in my files looking for the ones which would stand out. The result was a video, unimaginatively, perhaps, titled “Top Ten Social Media Disasters 2011”

It’s almost two years later, a lifetime in terms of how the web develops and I was really interested to see where the stars of that video are now. My contention is that social media is an intrinsically unforgiving medium. You can make a mistake but you need to learn fast and if you fail to learn you’re only learning to fail.

That last element is important. Already we know that the brain can learn cocaine addiction within two hours of taking the drug and I am willing to bet that failure is also a learnt response. At a deeper level this would suggest that success can also be learnt and that before one kind of learning takes place some unlearning must first occur.

There is another lesson here however which is of more importance to me in this article and that’s the contention that social media is so crucial to what we do and so critical in the way we are evolving in business and life that unless you get it, you’re heading for a crash and burn scenario.

With that in mind I revisited the ten stars of my 2011 Social Media Disasters video and this is what I found:

1. New Media Strategies (NMS) – A National Journal article at the end of last year reported that:

New Media Strategies has seen a talent exodus since founder and CEO Pete Snyder departed in December, raising questions on K Street about whether the pioneering social media marketing firm's public affairs practice is tanking.

More than half of the firm's public affairs staff has turned over, with more than a dozen NMS staffers leaving since Snyder's departure, according to news accounts, LinkedIn profiles and a half dozen sources who have worked with and for the firm. Several former employees said the public affairs staff numbered roughly 20 at the beginning of the year.

While company staffers anonymously posted on Glassdoor salaries that reflect that the company may not have quite learnt its lesson and may still be expecting to get the best while paying less than competitive salaries.

2. Netflix – Seems to have learnt from the Qwikster fiasco, wiped the egg off its face and moved on to become an online powerhouse, innovatively using analytics and sentiment mining to come up with the incredibly popular format of House of Cards which, at a stroke, disrupted TV and set a new standard for non-cable productions. The move seems to have paid off with more of the same expected from them soon.

3. Qantas – The Australian airline seems to have learnt from its 2011 debacle and bounced back to become a leader in its class. Not only that but it has gone above and beyond, allowing the pull of social media to take it, naturally, towards the next stage of evolution which is turning it into a social business that helps promote its home state of Queensland and the people in it through mutually beneficent deals.

4. Bob Parsons – The elephant-shooting, unrepentant CEO suffered a bruising with his company’s stance on the controversial US bill SOPA, introduced by Lamar Smith, and finally on May 11, 2012 it was announced that he was going. The move proved that the old internet myth about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, busted my mythbusters sometime ago, was in Bob Parson’s case, all too true.

5. Unilever  – Put the Ragu saga behind them and launched, since, the ahem, relatively successful and certainly much talked about Dove for Real Beauty campaign but as recent digital media writings show their social media strategy across the board may indeed still be vacillating between the flawed/flawless question of their Dove beauty ads.

6. Kenneth Cole – Across the social media world the well-known fashion brand is principally known for its gaffe over the Egypt riots of 2011. Since then it has played it safe with a steady, low-key use of social media that has done nothing more than use social media channels as a quiet means of keeping its public informed preferring, instead, to put its ad dollars in the much safer, top-down controlled world of conventional magazine advertising

7. Anthony Weiner – Even the move from disgraced senator to New York city mayoral candidate was not enough to keep Anthony Weiner from doing what he erm…does best. In a saga that is as surreal as a Twin Peaks episode Anthony Weiner proved that he’d learnt his lesson about using his real name on social media and under the handle Carlos Danger he was ready to … unleash himself upon womankind.

8. Virgin America – Its 2011 meltdown behind it, Virgin America has gone on to become an example for many of its industry though as a Business Week report showed it’s still got some way to go.

9. PayPal – Of the ten contenders of 2011 PayPal has emerged, so far, as the least repentant in the way it handles social media (I guess we'll have to take Anthony Weiner's moniker change as some kind of repentance). Occupying a somewhat unique position thanks to its size, global reach and necessity of its payment service it continues to manage its social media policy on a crisis-by-crisis case

10. Blackberry – The outright winner of the 2011 Social Media Disasters video however, Blackberry, sadly proved that when a tech company fails to get social, it’s a symptom of much deeper issues that are not so easily resolved. A change of management, staff and product lines sadly failed to revive the moribund brand and though its CEO, Thorsten Heins, did everything humanly possible short of using wiring and lighting rods, to breathe life back into the company, it has now gone up for sale.

If there’s a moral to any of this it’s that social media is an unforgiving medium. It strips companies and individuals bare, exposing their flaws and those that fail to adapt and move onto this new transparent world we live in are living on a clock that’s counting down much faster than it should.

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