Social Media PR Fails and What We Can Learn

If you choose to pay attention, there’s a lot you can learn from another person’s mistakes. The same can be said for brands or companies. If they mess up or get caught in a bad situation, watch and see what works and what doesn’t, then take a lesson.

To help drive that idea home, let’s look at some recent social media PR miscues and see what we can learn about how to do better.

Dove’s “Body Positive” Campaign Backfires

Dove has been hard at work in recent years, hoping to use its advertising to reshape how women, and society, understand beauty. From using models that buck the traditional advertising norm, to showing women fresh-faced without makeup or other cosmetic enhancements, Dove has worked hard to shift our culture’s definition of “beautiful.”

Sometimes, that initiative has worked very well, giving women plenty of reasons to love themselves… and to connect with Dove products. But not every initiative Dove tried worked. Last year, Dove decided it would be good to have its shampoo bottles “reflect different body types.” They manufactured an array of larger, smaller, taller, curvier and less curvy containers. This selection left many women with a conundrum: which do I choose? Am I loud and proud about who I am, or do I choose the bottle that best represents how I feel? Then there was the visual connection of seeing some bottles selling faster than others, which was simply a reminder that some “shapes” are more popular than others.

The lesson: When you try to get too cute, you might end up hurting more than you’re helping.

Pepsi Misfires on Social Justice

In one of the most reviled commercials of 2017, pop culture personality Kendall Jenner and Pepsi tried to send a positive message about race relations and human rights, but, instead, consumers felt the commercial trivialized important cultural issues. Boycotts were announced and many activists accused Pepsi and Jenner of “exploiting” a social movement just to make a buck.

The lesson: Good intentions are not enough. You need good follow through without message confusion or you could find yourself in a PR crisis.

United Airlines (again)

United Airlines has been in the news over and over again in the past year for multiple different PR fiascos. But there is no doubt the worst headlines came from the airline’s policy, and a few tone-deaf employees — dragging an elderly physician off a flight as other passengers recorded the incident. That would have been bad enough news, but then United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz doubled down by putting out a message praising his employees and chastising the passenger in question for not following protocol. Millions of consumers watched as the CEO of a major American company equated company protocol with beating up an elderly man. Despite that not being the intent of his message, that’s what people heard.

The lesson: There are cameras everywhere. Review your protocols and make sure they will look good when being played endlessly on social media, the evening news, and late night talk shows… right Starbucks? Oh, and, when you’re the CEO of a company that everyone is angry with, measure your words very carefully, so you don’t go out and make it worse.

The Department of Education Flunks its own “Apology”

In many modern contexts, especially on social media, spelling errors and typos are par for the course. Most people overlook them… Unless, of course, you’re representing the Federal Department of Education, and you’re trying to educate and commemorate. After a tweet misspelling W. E. B. DuBois’ name, the D of E followed that up by misspelling its apology. Not a horrendous failure, certainly… but it does bring us to our final lesson: Always check your work.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations

Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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