The best way to illustrate this problem is to show examples of man-made disasters that rocked good companies and seriously affected their public reputations.
The KitchenAid Tweet that joked about Obama’s dead grandmother
During a presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney a KitchenAid employee blasted a tweet to 24,000 followers that read: “Obama’s gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president.”
The company quickly removed the tweet and its senior director of marketing released a statement describing what happened and an apology.
“During the debate tonight, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore. I am deeply sorry to President Obama, his family, and the Twitter community for this careless error.”
Retailers misuse Hurricane Sandy
American Apparel used Hurricane Sandy as justification to sell merchandise. The company offered a 20 percent discount on clothes to shoppers if they typed “SANDYSALE” in the online checkout of the store’s website. Another store, Gap, also held a Sandy Sale. American Apparel ignored the gaffe while Gap tweeted an apology.
The National Rifle Association’s Magazine posts a thoughtless tweet after the Aurora shootings
After the Aurora Shooting that resulted in 12 deaths at a late night showing of “The Dark Night Rises,” the NRA magazine tweeted: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”
The tweet was published at 9:20 am EST and was removed three hours later.
An NRA spokesman said: “A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context.”
An Apple CEO issues a public apology because Apple Maps was so bad.
Apple discontinued the use of Google Maps and replaced it with Apple Maps on iPhones after Apple Maps had been heavily criticized for its many errors and did not include public transportation information. Time Cook, CEO of the company, had to release a public apology and admitted that Apple Maps “fell short” and suggested that users download competitive apps from the Apps store. The product manager who directed the maps team was fired months later.
An article in Forbes praised the fired manager as a good technician who should not have been blamed for the Apple Map deficits and added that the app was to blame because it just wasn’t good.
A Burger King employee is fired after stomping on lettuce
A photo showing a Burger King employee stomping on two containers of lettuce was posted on an online website called 4Chan. Users of the site identified the employee who did the deed and the store that he worked in.
Burger King fired the three employees involved in the caper, but blamed it on the store’s franchisee.
A Burger King spokesman said that the company has “stringent food handling procedures” and that “Food safety is a top priority at all Burger King restaurants.” The statement added, “…the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy against any violations such as the one in question.”
McDonald’s does a twitter promotion campaign that goes awry
In January 2012 McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign asking respondents to tweet their own #McDStories.
Some people decided to be creative and discuss McDonald’s horror stories with the hashtag. Some examples include, “Fingernail in my BigMac” and “Hospitalized for food poisoning after eating McDonalds in 1989. Never ate there again and became Vegetarian. Should have sued.”
McDonald’s couldn’t control what people tweeted and the stories exhibited when anyone clicked the hashtag. The company pulled #mcdstories, which had been promoted for less than two hours. After pulling the hashtag, the amount of stories were cut from a peak of 1600 to about a few dozen.
The point of this story is that good companies should have contingency plans to handle disasters like this. The ability to react quickly can keep a PR disaster from getting worse.