social-brandSocial media can be a double-edged sword for brands; done well you can engage your customers, build trust and your brand. Done poorly and you will look bad, fast. Of all the social sites none can build you up or tear you down as fast as Twitter. Tracy Hartman, our Director of Social Media, has written several posts for this blog about the good and the bad of twitter, but due to some recent events with one of my favorite vendors, I wanted to relay a couple examples of Twitter gone wrong and one of Twitter done right.

Most of the really bad things that happen on Twitter start with a really good idea. Just remember social media gives you the opportunity to spread ideas quickly; unfortunately the bad ideas seem to spread faster and further. It pays to put some extra thought into things like hashtag campaigns. Hashtag campaigns can be great for user engagement, but before you put one out there it pays to take a long look at the potential downside. Once it’s out there it’s out there for good.

Sticking it to the man
The first example of a good idea that was actually a bad idea is the NYPD’s #myNYPD campaign. Basically the NYPD asked users to tweet photos of themselves with NYPD officers and tag them with the hashtag #myNYPD. I’m sure whoever thought this up was sure they would get tons of photos of smiling citizens with smiling officers—and they did. What I’m sure they didn’t expect was the flood of pictures of police brutality all with the #myNYPD. Not exactly the type of police/citizen contact they were looking for. Not only did it go wrong for the NYPD, but it’s since spread to Chicago (#myCPD), Los Angeles (#myLAPD) and others.

Years ago if a brand, or in this case an organization, asked for you to comment it was through a channel they controlled; they could shut it off. Hashtags gone awry take on a life of their own and they spread fast.

The NYPD has over 34 thousand uniformed officers, the vast majorities of which are good people that do a hard job but, like all police departments, they have skeletons in the closet. On the upside, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton seems to be doing a good job handling the negative attention. You can read more about it on Mashable.

Sticking it to the clown
The next example of Twitter gone wrong is McDonalds #McDStories. In January 2012 Ronald and gang tweeted  "When u make something w/ pride, people can taste it," McD potato supplier #McDstories. Seems harmless enough but it opened the door to all manner of tweets about fingernails in burgers and other horror stories. You can read about the whole debacle over at Business Insider. Maybe it’s just me, but when you are a giant, controversial fast food company, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to think people might use this hash tag to further their own agenda.

Twitter to the rescue
There are many examples of various brands who have Twitter fails, but what about brands that use Twitter successfullly? Recently blogging service provider Typepad suffered a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. The attack knocked a large number of their clients' blogs, including one of ours, off line. Our client's blog, as well as hundreds or thousands more were rendered unavailable (some for days) and there is nothing a user can do about it. Now I have had these attacks happen to several services I deal with and they are a massive pain. When these attacks happen the service provider will typically call in every available support person to work on the issue to get it fixed as quickly as possible. Customers become frustrated and angry quickly because a site that’s down is likely costing them revenue. Unfortunately, unless you’ve worked in IT, it’s not always easy to understand what’s actually going on or the complexity of the situation. To make matters worse the service provider isn’t always able to give a good explanation of what they are doing to fix the issue because those responsible for the attack may use that information to launch further attacks. Support has to simultaneously deal with the situation and the angry customers. Some customers understand but many blame it on the service provider. Whatever the case, things can get ugly for support.

Typepad handled the situation with healthy doses of grace under pressure, humor and constant updates. Never once did I see support falter even though they were dealing with hundreds of angry customers. And never once did I see a support person get angry in his or her response.

Typepad seems to have had a great communications plan in place and they took full advantage of Twitter to respond to their customers quickly and efficiently. As frustrating as the attack was, I knew I could get up-to-the-minute updates from Typepad's Twitter page. Not only did they post frequently, they responded to tweets quickly. While none of this fixed the issue it did keep most customers happy, well as happy as you can be when your site is down. Their support team through Twitter did a great job of boosting trust in the Typepad brand. At the end of the day the whole situation sucked; our site, like many more, was down for a few days, but in the end I’m left with nothing but appreciation for the job Typepad did resolving the issue and, more importantly, for the job they did communicating with all of their customers. I have recommended Typepad for years and because of the way they handled this situation I will continue to do so for years to come. This is a case where social media boosted the brand.

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