When Social Media Goes Bad: How to Turn it to your Advantage

Social media is one of the most useful, and most economical, tools you have at your disposable as a business owner. The technology is free and it can be used in a myriad of different ways, from promotions, to product development, to marketing, in general.

However, just as social media opens a new and continual avenue to communicating with your customers, current and potential, it can also turn against you. Consumers can use social media as a forum to discredit your business, your products or services, or even your industry. This can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe your company made a mistake, took a controversial stand, or used questionable marketing – whatever the case, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sources are trending your “error” and your sales are starting to evidence this. What to do?


When consumers respond to your actions or offerings via social media, it is almost always with a suggestion or a challenge. Take for example what happened in July 2010 when Ann Taylor LOFT posted a photo of a model wearing silk cargo pants on its Facebook page; consumers complained that the pants looked good on the model but expressed doubt that the pants would look good on the average woman, even criticizing the company for designing such pants. Rather than ignore consumer comments, Ann Taylor LOFT set out to prove naysayers wrong; they had staff members model the pants and posted them on the Facebook page along side its previous posting of the model. In doing this, they gained major consumer support, so much, in fact, that Ann Taylor LOFT adopted this strategy for other styles that consumers deemed “unflattering.”


If your company did do something wrong or offensive however, it is important that you make amends. When PretzelCrisps launched, it did so in tandem with a marketing campaign centered around four slogans, one of which was “You can never be too thin.” Consumers were enraged, claiming that the ad slogan advocated anorexia and other unsafe eating behaviors and conditions. They were very vocal about this in social media outlets which, fortunately for the company, PretzelCrisps monitors heavily. PretzelCrisps immediately removed the ads and consumers rallied support.


Unfortunately, PretzelCrisps replaced the offensive slogan with one that consumers advocated as equally offensive – “Tastes as good as skinny feels.” The company claimed the alternative slogan was one of the original four campaign slogans, but it still cost it all the goodwill gained from discontinuing the first slogan. Eventually, pressure from social media forced the company to discontinue the campaign. The point is that when you make amends for something that your company does, make sure that you make amends fully.


Lastly, if your company did something questionable or controversial, use social media to explain your company’s actions or policies.

When Southwest Airlines kicked Kevin Smith, a popular film director, off one of its planes for failing the armrest test – namely, he could not easily fit between two armrests. Under normal circumstances, he would have had to purchase an extra seat. However, the plane was full and this was not an option; as such, Smith was asked to get off the plane and was given a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. Smith responded to the incident by posting a variety of complaints over what happened (he has over 1.6 million followers on Twitter alone). Southwest is continually monitoring social media, a fact that enabled them to respond in just 16 minutes after Smith posted his initial complaint.

While Smith did not respond to requests by Southwest to DM (direct message), Southwest posted the whole story, an explanation of its policy, and an apology to the director, after which all negative dialogue ceased.