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Social Web Traps Be Careful Out There

22 03 2010

The social web has started to feel like a bloody dangerous place.  In the last few days there have been not one but two major PR disasters befalling household names.  The first was Nestle’s appallingly handled response to the Greenpeace Palm Oil campaign, and today the CashGordon debacle has left both Labour and the Tories with pre-election bruising.

The Nestle debacle was covered in detail by my colleague Jon Clements on PR Media Blog but to summarise; a naive confrontation on the company’s Facebook Fan Page led to a full-scale debate on-line about deforestation in Indonesia and whether the brand’s use of palm oil was endangering the Orang Utan.  It was a text-book case of  ill preparedness and it seemed to outsiders as if the office junior in the marketing department had been entrusted with the global brand image.  Whoever was looking after the Facebook page was unable to deal appropriately with criticism of the company and rather than defuse the situation the flames were fanned.   For many people it was the first time they had linked KitKats with deforestation and it remains to be seen how many people will take a break from Nestle products.

Today’s pratfall was the collapse of the Tory attack site Cash Gordon.  The site allowed web users to post unmoderated tweets with the #cashgordon hashtag.   Having the words “Cameron is a paedophile” on a Conservative web site was just one of the unimagined consequences. Things got worse when a security flaw allowed the site to be hacked redirecting visitors in turn to the Labour website, a rickroll and a variety of shock sites.   Twitter users were circulating the code online required for the hack before Tory HQ regained control and directed users back to the main party site.

Solutions are to be found in a mixture of digital know how good old-fashioned PR practise; plan and test assiduously in advance, rehearse Q&As, monitor and respond, escalate responsibility during a crisis and just becasue they are digital natives don’t let inexperienced people manage the fall out.

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