THE BLOG
03/29/2011 06:39 pm ET Updated 6 days ago

Social Media Self-Destruction: Aflac and Chrysler

THE PROBLEM: A single thoughtless social message can cause a major PR disaster.

THE SOLUTION: Use common sense and voice-of-the-customer feedback to keep your organization's social media messaging appropriate and on target.

What's funny on Twitter can be very funny indeed. Until it isn't.

That's the primary lesson from the recent "twimmolations" of former AFLAC voice artist Gilbert Gottfried and the unlucky marketing consultant working for Chrysler. Each story of "the tweet that went too far" has by now been retold many times, often with the same moral: Be smart and beware!

Twitter rewards creativity and zaniness with visibility, but then condemns it when it "crosses the line"... a line that is sometimes hard to identify. Playing for global visibility in the social media space means taking risks, and the common tactic of pushing boundaries of taste or humor can make those risks immense.

That may be the right lesson for the world at large... but the lesson for marketers is a different one.

We are not out to make the entire online world laugh. Rather, we are out to engage, over time, with a carefully defined subsection of cyberspace: our customers and prospective customers.

That means we must use social media channels as a LISTENING channel first and foremost. We must deploy Twitter, Facebook, and other channels to determine what kinds of products, services, and communications our customers want... and we must use these tools to take their temperature constantly about what does not belong in our communications.

Untargeted, irrelevant, or offensive messages always hurt our cause. Rather than "experiment," our goal is to know with greater and greater certainty what our customers consider untargeted, irrelevant, or offensive... long before we hit "send."

Social media can help us confirm what is, and is not, likely to be perceived by our own customers as "crossing the line." However, everyone connected with our organization must understand:

  • When they do and do not represent the enterprise online.
  • What kinds of messages are on the right side of that VOC-defined line, and what kinds are unacceptable at anytime and via any medium.

Our job is not to win global attention by ignoring our own VOC-defined boundaries of good taste! Rather, it is to use the constant stream of information we receive from our customers and prospects to get a clearer sense of what they do and do not expect from us. As Craig Kielberger, founder of Free the Children, put it in a recent interview, social media offers "indispensable real-time feedback about what we're doing -- what's working and what is not." Empower your people to use that feedback... and you'll avoid fiascos like those experienced recently by Aflac and Chrysler.

TRY THIS:

View Twitter as a major channel of communication for your company. Train and manage staff accordingly. This is not a casual activity for "someone on staff."

Gather customer feedback regarding what they do and don't want to see in your enterprise's social media messages.

Formalize guidelines for your company's social media content standards.

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."

www.erdm.com
ernan@erdm.com