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Learning from Past Public Relations Crises
Prime examples of what -- and especially what not -- to do.
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 by Amanda DiSilvestro

Amanda DiSilvestroSocial media allow for consumers to be in constant communication about people, products and events. 

As social networks continue to grow, they are incorporating more people across the globe each day.

Now, more than ever before, it is important for PR professionals to be involved and aware of the constant chatter. When people get angry, they take to the web.

The undeniable truth about consumers in the 21
st century: They trust their peers. With each bad tweet or Facebook post comes (not a thousand) thousands more. Once started, if not handled correctly, that small instance of rage that originated in a small town in Idaho can quickly to travel to China and India. That’s when it begins to have a lasting effect.

For this reason, it is important that PR departments understand a social media crisis when they see one. Furthermore, PR professionals need to know how to handle such a crisis.

Consider a few of the most famous examples a PR department had to face because of a “network outbreak” of complaints, and then consider how it should have been dealt with by the company:

3 Famous Social Media Crises and Their Solutions

  1. Domino’s Pizza – Why Fast Reaction Is Important
The Problem: On April 15, 2009, two Domino’s Pizza employees placed prank videos on YouTube that showed them (of) stuffing cheese up their nose at work. They proceeded to place the contaminated food back on the sandwich made for a customer. As you can imagine, they were breaking health code violations left and right. These videos that disgusted millions of YouTube viewers went viral. Within days twitter was lit up with customer complaints. Though Dominos placed their own president in a reactionary YouTube video to provide an apology, the damage had been done.

The Solution: This is a key example of social media use that can quickly become destructive. In this particular situation, Dominos reacted less than great. Most were wondering if strict
background checks were in the future, but they didn’t hear back from the company for two days. Furthermore, most of the complaints were happening on Twitter, but the apology was happening on the mainstream press. This caused the issue to continue far longer than necessary. 

  1. Toyota – Why “Being One of Them” Matters
The Problem: Toyota’s recent recalls, from which many people were injured or killed, sparked a flurry of social media uproar. Outraged customers, expressing their anger and resentment of the brand, caused a widespread attack on the company.

The Solution: The first step to avoid these social media PR crises is to get into the conversation. Toyota took to the conversation after the fact, but had lost the ability to redirect the conversation when it needed to most: in the middle of the storm. Lacking a twitter handle potentially cost Toyota innumerable amounts of valuable customers. They were left scrambling to create a
business proposal that people would accept.

  1. Motrin – Know the Intricacies of the Social Networks
The Problem: On September 30, 2008 Motrin released an ad portraying a new mom carrying her baby in a sling. The point they hoped to get across was that new moms could look like a “cool” new mom wearing her sling, and then they could help ease the eventual back pain with Motrin. Immediately, every woman who saw or heard about the advertisement felt as though Motrin was poking fun at motherhood. Taken to the internet as the hash tag #MotrinMoms, the destruction was already done.

The Solution:
Twitter is more than simply a platform to speak your mind. It allows people to use features such as “retweet” and “#” (also known as a hashtag). If the hash tag symbol is placed in front of a word or phrase, it can then be clicked on, directing you to other tweets sporting the same hash tag. When one hash becomes popular, it is said to be trending. Motrin was trending, in a very bad way. If Motrin had any sort of presence on Twitter, or knowledge of how the platform works, it could have joined the #MotrinMoms conversation for the better. It’s therefore important to understand the ins and outs of all social media networks if you expect your company to react properly.

What It Means for Your Company

These case studies present a clear vision of what a social media PR crisis looks like. The three presented here are only a few, and the number is growing with each new ad campaign and YouTube video.

A crisis involving social media is not out of the question, and is in fact a reality for any company doing
business today. If your agency or PR department isn’t ready for the power of social media, take some worthwhile time to go over some of the best ways to handle a crisis.

Although these examples were large, smaller scaled crisis can still hurt.
It is important to remember that the internet is the perfect platform for any consumer to speak their mind—and without hesitation they will.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for, giving
advice to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

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