Social media is now such a standard communications and PR tool that lists such as Advertising Age’s top-10 social media blunders are annual postings. The snafus listed in this 2011 edition are instantly recognizable in fewer words than it takes to fill a 140-character Twitter feed. All you have to do is say “Anthony Weiner” or “Weinergate,” or “Qwickster Twitter account,” or “Ashton Kutcher and Joe Paterno,” and millions – not just those of us in the communications trade – know exactly what you are talking about because of … social media.
Which brings us to the frightening word: VIRAL. CommCore consultants remind all our communications and PR clients: the difference between a media blunder as we used to think of it, and a social media-aided blunder, is the word: “viral.” In the old days we used to say “Once the Genie gets out of the bottle, you can’t put the top back on.”
Back in the day traditional media blunders had a chance of being contained due to the disposability of the medium: the newspaper became fish wrap within a day, and the TV or radio broadcast was gone into the ether. Even with the advent of the 24-hour cable news cycles in the 80s, and the internet as an emerging media presence in the mid 1990s, one could eventually find a way to put one’s arms around a blunder that had gone public.
But it’s different now. With its universally accessible archive of authorized and unauthorized videos YouTube (the world’s no.2 search engine after Google) last forever. Facebook and Twitter are reaching global critical mass as interactive real-time communications tools. You can find anything, anywhere at any time. Deletion is an oxymoron in social media.
Because of the viral nature of social media, communications blunders have to be prevented through awareness. When they do happen they need to be caught instantly. This requires clear rules of engagement by an organization’s employees and stakeholders, and by anyone responsible for a brand image. It also requires careful monitoring of social media, and crisis response contingencies that are clear, transparent and quick.
“Ooops, sorry” never sounded so pathetic as when millions of consumers knew what it was about even before it was uttered. Just look at the Top 10 lists.