“Well, maybe a little bit fat.”

As soon as the words escape your lips you realize that you’ve made a mistake.  You perhaps try to justify it, thinking, “Well, she asked my opinion.”  You shamefully congratulate yourself for being honest.

Whatever the justification, it was undoubtedly a bad thing to say, and you wish that you could take it back.  The only problem is the fact that you said it aloud, and she heard it.  And now you can’t ever take it back.

You might be able to once again sit on the couch with some begging and apologizing.  You might get to watch your favorite show again before the television becomes obsolete if you cook dinner, buy flowers, and start putting your dirty clothes in the hamper.  It is going to be a long, long, long time before you are once again regarded as a fashion expert.

Now, imagine that you’ve made this faux pas with a few thousand, or even million significant others.  Welcome to the Social Media Doghouse.

The most recent organization to be chained to the proverbial porch was the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  The SGK Foundation has been a huge advocate for breast cancer awareness and research, and they created the ubiquitous pink ribbon.  They help to sponsor tons of events around the world and have had such a voice that NFL players wore pink, and on Mother’s Day Major League Baseball players wore pink gear and used pink bats.

They ran into Social Media Failure when they announced that they would no longer be partnering or helping to fund Planned Parenthood.  This started a national argument of truly biblical proportions.  Fans of Planned Parenthood flooded the SGK Facebook page with angry cries of foul, and fans of the decision applauded the ‘courage’ of SGK to pull funding for a political pariah.  Social badges began to appear, and were linked, shared, and liked.  The badges featured the SGK pink, and carried slogans and phrases that decried the action of the group.  One such badge was shared over 30,000 times within the first day, and at one Komen Backlashpoint the SGK Facebook page was registering over 20 negative posts per minute.  A video was put up on YouTube that featured Komen head Nancy Brinker.  It quickly got over 100,000 views, and most of the comments were negative and many said that the “explanation” seemed disingenuous.  The comment section of the video was locked after the first several hours.

So what happened?

Komen announced their funding plans on a Tuesday, they reversed their decision that Friday, and within a week, their Senior Vice President of Public Policy had resigned over the flap.

But the story is still playing out as rattled supporters on both sides wait for the words to die.

PayPal snarkPayPal got its moment of doghouse when it cut off funding for regretsy.  That site is part ecommerce, part blog, and offers quirky handmade crafts and snarky commentary.  They started a charity fund for some Secret Santa gifts for needy kids, and PayPal cut off their money because they used the wrong button.  Instead of a “shopping cart” or “buy now” they used a “donate”.  The intrepid tweaks at PayPal took a look at regretsy and decided that they were a business, not a charity, and therefore had no right to use the “donate” button.  The email exchange between the two groups became quite animated, and was shared on regretsy’s blog.  One explanation from PayPal said, “…what you’re doing is not a worthy cause, it’s charity.  You can use the donate button to raise money for a sick cat, but not poor people.”

After a flurry of “PayPal Ruins Christmas” posts, they reversed their decision and apologized for any misunderstanding.  But the blogs and hurt feelings are still out there.

Netflix, in its infinite wisdom, decided that people just don’t like DVDs anymore, and as such wouldn’t mind paying more for them.  They decided to make it a separate business and call it Qwikster.  They issued a quiet press release outlining the changes and new fees for the popular service, and then repaired to the local watering hole for some TGIF camaraderie.

When they got to work on Monday, the Social Media team fired up their browsers and said, “Let’s see what people think about our great idea!”

The first comment said something along the lines of, “You suck.  Why should I pay more for less service than I’m currently receiving?”  Netflix murmured, “Well, that’s not good.” Click.  Delete.

Next comment:  “You’re crazy.  Cancel my subscription.”  Click.  Delete.

And so it went for the rest of the day.  AND THEN the hordes of angry consumers went The Real Qwiksterback to the Netflix Facebook and twitter and reposted, “Hey JA#@*SS!  Why did you take down my post?”  AND THEN Netflix found out that the twitter handle for Qwikster was taken by a gamer who likes to get baked and used a stoned Elmo with a fattie as his avatar.

“Excuse us, sir.  We’re Netflix and we kind of need that twitter account.”

“Uh…heh heh.  Um, nope,” said Qwikster.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from these (and a myriad of other!) social media versions of the foot-in-mouth syndrome.

  • Be polite.  Anything that you say can and will be used against you.  Negative posts should be responded to with careful thought and consideration.  It is ok to have a sense of humor, but don’t share anything that you wouldn’t share with your grandmother.  Just ask Gilbert Gottfried.
  • Practice your due diligence.  In the Netflix debacle and the Komen fiasco, the organization had no idea what the consumer actually wanted.  Netflix was also irresponsible for not checking domains and available handles before launching an entirely new brand.
  • Own it.  Much of the flack over the Komen video and the PayPal exchange dealt with the lack of accountability.  Viewers were expecting some sort of apology.  When a Chrysler employee tweeted disparaging remarks about Detroit drivers on the company account, they claimed that the account had been hacked.  Didn’t work for Weiner, and it won’t work for Chrysler.  When the American Red Cross found that a representative of the non-profit had accidentally posted about finding some icy Dogfish Head (gratuitous brand shout-out) beers and “getting slizzard”, the Red Cross owned it, and with humor:  “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”
  • It’s always five o’clock somewhere.  When a Papa John’s in New York identified a customer as “lady chinky eyes”, the Asian-American pizza recipient took a picture of her receipt and posted it to twitter.  That was at 12:30.  By 3 p.m. it had been retweeted over 20,000 times.  Many organizations put up a post and lock up the office.  Social media has a 24-hour cycle, and as such needs 24-hour feeding and stroking.
  • You can’t un-say it.  The video from Komen is available through many news outlets, and typing “social media failure” into your search will bring you results, stories, and screen shots that go back six and seven years.  Facebook has only been around for about eight.
  • When in doubt, tell them that they’re beautiful, and you love them.

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