Social Media Blunders can Teach us Lessons in Business

It’s a new year and an exciting time to be part of social media.

2011 saw social media go through several significant growth spurts – moving further away from simply being “a way to connect with friends and family” and evolving more and more into a powerful platform for  voicing public opinion, rallying for support, and driving change as it relates to business, politics, celebrities, consumer brands, you name it.

But growth rarely comes without its growing pains and social media is no exception. Let’s revisit some of those “pain points” by checking out these top 2011 social media blunders, and a couple of “honorable mentions” that stuck out in my mind as well:

  • A financial twist on the biblical David versus Goliath story. The country’s 2nd largest bank planned to impose a $5 fee on its customers to use their debit cards. But, customers weren’t having it. They waged a war through a flood of walk-in and online complaints, fueled mostly by social media. And, you know how the story goes.  David, the customers in this case, won. The $5 fee got dropped.  And, Goliath…well basically got hit in the head with a rock (ouch!)
  • A teen clothing retailer that offered to pay MTV reality star, “The Situation” an undisclosed amount of money not to wear their apparel because the star’s image was damaging to the company’s brand. (Really?) Personally, I say if the clothes are selling who cares whose buying them and why. But, apparently one retailer cared. Once the news broke about the undisclosed offer, Twitter and Facebook followers of “The Situation” immediately began tweeting and putting up posts to boycott the company. The next day, the company’s stock dropped a whooping 9%! The proverbial “foot in one’s mouth” (double ouch!)

That’s the power of social media. It’s immediate, swift, far-reaching, and if you’re on the wrong side of the wave, a bit scary at times too.  But for companies interested in growing their business, the significance and reach of social media can’t be ignored as seen by these key 3Q11 Nielsen statistics (unless otherwise noted):

  • Social networks and blogs continue to dominate Americans’ time online, now accounting for nearly a ¼ of total time spent on the Internet
  • Today nearly 4 in 5 active Internet users visit social networks and blogs
  • Social networking apps are the 3rd most-used among U.S. smartphone owners
  • 70% of active online adult social networkers shop online; 12% more likely than the average adult Internet user
  • 53% of active adult social networkers follow a brand, while 32%follow a celebrity
  • Across a snapshot of 10 major global markets, social networks and blogs reach over ¾ of active Internet users
  • Social network ad revenues are projected to reach $10 billion worldwide in 2013, with half of the total coming from the U.S. market (eMarketer)

While the outcomes of these top 2011 social media blunders may be unfortunate —that is, depending on which side you happen to be rooting for – they do teach us an important lesson.  Unlike more traditional media like print, TV, radio and even email – social media is a “living-breathing” exchange of thoughts and ideas between businesses and their customers that demands respect. When used wisely, it can vastly broaden your business’ market reach, attract new customers, and ultimately drive business revenues. When used not so wisely….well let’s just say you could end up with a knot on your head or a foot in your mouth (oooooouch!).

Share or comment on an example of a successful (or not so successful) use of social media. Do you view social media as a positive or a negative marketing strategy for your business and why? What examples would you point to of social media blunders? We look forward to your comments.
Lisa Thomas Sr. Marketing Manager AT&T About Lisa