With the massive popularity of social media, now when a company messes up it doesn’t only have to deal with shouted questions from reporters, but also the collective disapproval of an entire customer base.
That makes a company’s reaction to a mistake more important then ever. A hamfisted response to a crisis only intensifies the backlash.
Paul Argenti, a corporate communications expert and professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business puts together an annual list of the biggest communication blunders of the year, which he shared with us.
It includes everything from social media screwups to misguided ads and massive CEO flubs. Here are the top 5.
1. JP Morgan/Chase: #AskJPM
JP Morgan’s major 2013 blunder had it all: terrible timing, badly misreading the public, and a complete and utter misunderstanding of social media.
“JPM’s marketing wizards decided to set up a Q&A on Twitter with superstar banker Jimmy Lee at the same time the bank was being hit with a $US13 billion fine for its transgressions during the financial crisis,” Argenti says. “After 24,000 tweets — arguably one of the fastest and most negative reactions to any major global brand on Twitter — they pulled the campaign and realised that maybe their reputation wasn’t what it once was.”
The lesson learned: “Listen to your communications experts.”
2. Lululemon: Shifting the blame
When asked on Bloomberg TV about quality control problems leading to excessive sheerness on its new yoga pants, Lululemon founder and chairman Chip Wilson suggested that it was due to heavy women rubbing their thighs together because the pants were too tight for them.
“How much more insensitive can a person be when faced with a relatively minor issue?” Argenti asks.
The lesson learned: “Don’t blame customers for your mistakes, and know when to shut up!”
3. Chick-fil-A: Being unauthentic
Last year was pretty bad for Chick-fil-A after Dan Cathy’s comments on gay marriage. But this year, it didn’t do much better, Argenti argues.
“Companies can certainly have opinions about gay marriage or any other subject, but they should try to stick to their guns and remain true to their beliefs,” Argenti says. “Instead, CEO Dan Cathy, who clearly supports the most traditional definition of marriage, decided to put the entire controversy back on the front burner by befriending Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. This only served to remind us of Chick-fil-A’s false Facebook accounts, its lies about the termination of the relationship with Jim Henson Co., and the entire Twitter controversy. It also called into question the veracity of Cathy’s beliefs.”
The lesson learned: “Stick to your guns, and know when to fold your cards.”
4. Carnival: Hiding at the top
Carnival already had a disaster last year with the Costa Concordia. But when a ship lost power in February, CEO Micky Arison wasn’t available. It had a lower-ranked CEO of the cruise line come out instead.
“One of the most basic rules of crisis communications is that your top person needs to be on hand when things hit the fan,” Argenti says. “Arison seems more concerned with tweeting about his Miami Heat rather than trying to figure out how to fix systemic problems with the company’s fleet.”
The lesson learned: “Put your CEO front and center when you are in a crisis and under attack.”
5. Obamacare: Inappropriate ads
“Trying to draw young people to a non-working website with online ads that are, at best, in bad taste ranks up there with the dumbest communications acts of the year,” Argenti says. “Depending upon which state you were in, you were subjected to sexually suggestive ads that were degrading to women or spots that encouraged reckless behaviour with young men standing on top of kegs.”
It was the wrong message to send, he argues, inspired even worse fake ads from opponents of the law, and ended up drawing more focus on something that was already going badly.
The lesson learned: “Keep your communications classy, and you won’t have to worry about being attacked by fakers.”
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