Every social media-marketing plan must include a strategy to respond to worst-case scenarios, such as what happens when online word of mouth turns nasty.
Making it easier to plan for this situation is the ever-growing list of case studies on social media campaign failures. Recently, there’s a new addition: General Mills’ Cheerios brand.
Folksy idea turns sour—fast
In the latest case study
, Cheerios marketing executives started with a folksy idea and gave it a social media twist to introduce a campaign letting customers share memories of the brand with a downloadable smartphone app. The idea was to let users share words that would get turned into a Facebook image using the brand’s iconic logo font.
Long story short, the online masses—fueled by an anti-genetically modified foods group—attacked Cheerios' app with words that do anything but prompt fond memories of the brand. The crisis occurred practically overnight, as thousands used the app to share their views, including “Made in a Lab” and “poison.”
The Cheerios parent company, General Mills, gave a million bucks to a California campaign to fight a requirement to label foods that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The donation, and the belief that Cheerios might contain GMOs, was enough to create a rogue crowd-sourcing campaign.
Since the social media attack, Cheerios has gone into bunker mode, taking down the app and basically giving up the reins of its Facebook page
Cheerios isn’t the only victim
It’s actually not very surprising. In the last year, we saw McDonald’s launch #McDstories
hashtag to elicit heart-warming stories about Happy Meals. The effort attracted snarky tweets and McDonald’s detractors who turned it into a #bashtag to share their #McDHorrorStories.
In another example, Internet pranksters hijacked Mountain Dew's new soda
naming contest by submitting a handful of tasteless suggestions, such as “diabeetus,” “gushing granny,” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
Even the media saw their attempts to create buzz get called out for shameless self-promotion. To draw attention to its magazine and news coverage, Newsweek
created a #muslimrage hashtag, which the Muslim world took over and used to make fun of themselves, with tweets such as "I'm having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage
" or “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can't yell for him. #MuslimRage
Girding for crisis
Some solutions for making sure your brand isn’t put through the online ringer include making sure that your marketing department is talking to the PR department. In Cheerios case, I bet the PR folks knew about the potential for the anti-GMO group to play the role of spoiler, but I doubt they were consulted.
Also, companies should have a plan to pull the plug, engage round-the-clock social media monitoring, and review your social media policies.
And above all, don’t underestimate the power of social media.