Tech Tuesday: Social Media Brand Failures

Waitrose is a company renowned for giving the best service out of all the supermarket heavyweights. Yet even companies as celebrated as Waitrose need only take a single step wrong for a wealth of unwanted attention to be showered down upon them.

Last summer Shell announced a new partnership with Waitrose, with two ‘Little Waitrose’ to feature on existing Shell Petrol forecourts. Some Waitrose customers are disappointed about this, because they feel Waitrose have positioned themselves as an ethical brand; Shell on the other hand often top the list of ‘least environmentally friendly’ companies.

Thoughts and opinions on ethical brands and partnerships aside, it is how Waitrose responded on social media sites today that has spurned criticism and unwanted attention.

Several people have used the Waitrose facebook page to politely ask Waitrose to end their partnership with Shell. Many of these posts have been deleted, and in some instances contributors have been barred from posting on their page. When challenged about why they took this action, Waitrose responded each time with a geric reply of ‘please see our house rules which can be found in our Notes section’ instead of addressing each question individually. From screen shots that were grabbed before posts were removed, we have seen how (now) banned users praised the supermarket for their previous ethical behaviour before politely asking Waitrose to consider ending their relationship with Shell.

For me, Waitrose is making a huge mistake by not answering customer’s questions about Shell. Last year Waitrose posted a press release about their new relationship with Shell, and the very public nature of their relationship is hardly something they should try to hide. So why suddenly clam up and refuse to acknowledge, let alone answer, questions from their own community?

Waitrose, like John Lewis, are renowned for being the best on the high street for the level of service that they offer customers, and they have previously proven adept at dealing with customers online too. That said it is clear that the community manager for the Waitrose facebook page is receiving no proactive support from a relevant superior at this time. Putting a facebook page in the hands of the internal PR team or external agency only works when there is good communication between the manager of the facebook page and senior members of staff who have the power to make big decisions. At a time like this facebook is at its most powerful, and the manager of the page and senior staff members should work together to respond to their customers in a suitable manner.

Waitrose is not the only company to have made mistakes online in recent years. Numerous big brands have embarrassed themselves as they navigated the social media realm; here are some of the most prolific lessons to be learned.

It started with the hashtag #McDstories, with a hopeful expectation that customers would share their happy McDonalds memories. It didn’t end that way. The hashtag was taken over by the masses sharing their horror #McDstories.

‘These #McDStories never get old, kinda like a box of McDonald’s 10 piece’

‘Hospitalised for food poisoning after eating McDonalds in 1989. Never ate there again and became a vegetarian. Should have sued’

Ashton Kutcher
When a college football coach was fired, Ashton Kutcher told his 8 million twitter followers of his disappointment over the firing. It soon became apparent that the coach was involved in a investigation into sexual assaults against children.

Kenneth Cole
During the Cairo uprising Kenneth Cole decided to use the trending #Cairo hashtag to promote their products. This tweet received a huge amount of negative publicity and criticism:

‘Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online’

In such a fast-paced world where information is shared globally in a mere nano-second, not every brand is going to say the correct thing, at the correct time, all of the time.  Only by having a robust strategy in place and being able to respond to critics openly and responsibly can brands hope to use social media to their advantage.  Inviting people to ‘join the conversation’ is commonplace, but bear in mind that you may not always like what they say…

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About Christopher Hann
Can be found on Twitter, Google+, Facebook & PRSupdate.

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