Bitches, Bones and Botulism: Asia’s Top 10 Social Media #Fails in 2013

Calling someone a bitch isn’t the most obvious way to win her affection. And to do it online in front of their friends, their friends’ friends and your customers as a whole can terminate a relationship instantly, as fancy Kuala Lumpur-based patisserie Les Deux Garcons discovered earlier this year during its spectacular self-destruction on Facebook.

The incident is one of many social media meltdowns across Asia-Pacific this year. Yet while outright corporate stupidity will always grab the headlines, the causes of most fails are less obvious. This year’s most notable failures – chosen principally on account of the impact caused – are triggered by:

  • Poor quality product and/or customer service, both online and offline.
  • Misconceived or badly implemented product launches and promotions.
  • Lack of disclosure, with companies caught trying to damage competitors or others through underhand activities such as astro turfing.
  • Failure to handle fast escalating negative situations and crises in social media.

This year’s selection also includes an activist attack that backfired. Few firms have prepared properly for online attacks by activists, something that requires a good understanding of your aggressor’s demands and capabilities. Yet political blog TR Emeritus’ campaign against Philippine fast food outlet Jollibee shows how easily the tables can be turned.

For details, check out this year’s top 10 meltdowns:

What should companies do to minimize the potential for a meltdown in social media? Here are 6 top-level tips:

1. Fix the business problem. Social media is no panacea for existing business problems, indeed it’s only likely to amplify them. If your company has a reputation for product safety issues, mediocre customer service or poor employee loyalty, it’s advisable to fix these before participating deeply in social media.

2. Deliver flawless customer experience. Providing a high quality customer experience across all channels is essential to limiting risks in social media. This includes properly functioning websites (it’s notable that Singapore Airlines is to launch a new website only two years after the ignominious launch of the current edition) and fail-safe product launches and promotions. And it means staffing the customer front-lines with experienced personnel, not interns.

3. Handle issues and crises competently. Organizations must be properly equipped to handle challenging online discussions with customers and other stakeholders, manage online activist attacks and communicate effectively in social media during crises. While developing the appropriate protocols is critical, training relevant personnel is even more so.

4. Behave ethically online. While anonymity, pay per post, black hat search and other activities are rife amongst companies in large parts of Asia, ethical online behavior is increasingly expected and is rising up the agendas of industry associations and regulators. And just as U.S. firms are expected to comply with domestic regulation back home, Asian companies expanding internationally have to play by the rules of the markets they are looking to enter.

5. Focus on relationships, not numbers. Too often, social media meltdowns occur as a direct consequence of organizations being too focused on driving topline numbers of social media followers rather than looking to cultivate lasting and mutually productive relationships. If you really focus on understanding and getting to know your audiences, chances are that you will work in their best interests and that they will give you the benefit of the doubt when things get choppy.

6. Realize social media is not a vacuum. There remains a tendency to believe that what you do in social media will stay only in social media. If only. In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced media environment, bloggers and journalists are actively hunting for examples of companies (especially ones already in the public spotlight) messing up publicly. While online containment of an issue can work, firms are highly likely to have to act across channels if and when it escalates.

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