A twitter drive is a great idea, but a Twitter Q&A may not be if you know you will be inundated by angry activists the second you open it.
But what should you do when you find yourself facing a barrage of negative comments? Should you remove it? Perhaps removal may not be such a great idea as internet marketers know all too well about the “Streisand Effect”, where your removal becomes more of an event than what you’re trying to censor anyway!
No one likes to think about the negative side of things, but understanding your vocal customers (and opponents) can be the difference between a downside and a social media disaster.

Here are some examples of these social media disasters:

Nestle. Nestle posted to its 90,000+ Facebook fans: “We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.” The result is over 100 negative comments surrounding the post and a media storm.
United. You’re one of the top three airlines in the world. A passenger’s guitar was broken, and a video about his experience rakes in 3 million views. What do you do? United mostly ignored the public response, privately apologizing to the passenger. The public perceived United as big and heartless, resulting is stock price drop of 10% — a difference of $180 million.
McDonald’s. Asking your customers to tweet their stories sounds like a good idea for any company. This may not be the right move, however, if you’re as big as McDonald’s, a company who has a vocal group that opposes the brand. Their #McDStories campaign was flooded with negative feedback from countless disgruntled customers and McDonald’s shut down the hashtag.
Office Depot. The story: Office Depot’s company logo was defaced and uploaded to imgur.com, an image hosting website. Then the imgur post was linked to reddit, a website known for its strong stances against internet restrictions and copyright laws. Not knowing reddit’s vocal position, Office Depot issued a DMCA takedown notice to a reddit poster. Within two days, hundreds of copies of the defaced logo were uploaded in reaction to the notice, and one defaced Office Depot logo reached the front of Google image search. It was observed that Office Depot’s stock price fell 8.66% in one day.
JP Morgan. Most recently of all, JP Morgan thought it could connect to customers by creating a #AskJPM Q&A on twitter. Within hours, JPM faced an onslaught of snark like “As a young sociopath, how can I succeed in finance?”, “How much blood do your executives consume on a daily basis?”, and “What’s it like to work with Mexican cartels?”. The response made JP Morgan’s social media strategy look like a disaster because they hadn’t considered the possible negative reactions.

What can brands do to prevent these disasters from happening?

The secret to preventing such disasters from happening is to understand your customers and the sentiment they have towards your brand. In other words, your brand will have to pop out of your bubble and actually talk to your customers. Popping this bubbles can require some out-of-the-bubble thinking, but here are a few tips:

  • Reach out to customers via social media and learn their sentiment towards your brand or issues that they are sensitive to.
  • Utilize brand monitoring tools to figure out conversations that are taking place around your brand.
  • Use these insights to gather themes for outreach campaigns and to determine the timing of these campaigns.
  • Use these insights to think about your company’s PR from a positive and negative angle before pursuing an outreach campaign.

Step out of the bubble, and you might just save yourself from disasters.
At esd, we evaluate all sides of a company and we’re here to make sure it never happens to you.