To gaffe or not to gaffe. What is the real impact of a social media crisis?

I attended the interesting, informative and insightful Social Collective (see #socol for tweets from the event) last week. One of the subjects touched upon was how far negative comments/activity on social media impacted a brand’s reputation. It got me thinking about some of the brand “gaffes” that have happened since I’ve been working in the industry.

For a while, I’ve been somewhat suspicious about the actual impact of these so-called reputation destroying moments. To those of us working in the social media industry, we relish the chance to say ‘I told you so’ to non-client brands and spend hours waxing lyrical about what they should have done i.e. set employee guidelines, listen before engaging etc. But I have a sneaky suspicion that in most cases, the damage ends there. Your average Joe consumer is unlikely to read about the incident and even if they do, it probably won’t have a long-term impact on them buying the products or services.

Let’s take the Vodafone tweet incident as an example:

Recap – employee posts inappropriate tweet about homosexuals and beaver

Brand reaction – Vodafone tries to delete the tweet and then spends the rest of the day @replying a very repetitive apologetic tweet to everyone

Results – the tweet is captured and circulated furiously via Twitter. Numerous blogs pick up the story as does Guardian Tech and The Register

In summary, the story was picked up by influential blogs and did cause a storm on Twitter. However, a Google search for the week following shows virtually no posts on the subject and the results for the term “Vodafone” actually return the story “Vodafone is UK’s most valued brand” as one of the top results.

I realise this is only one case and an analysis of other social media gaffes may tell a different story. But, it does illustrate the point that the stories that make headlines in our social media bubble are not necessarily having an impact on consumer behaviour. Use them as case-studies yes, but not to scaremonger clients into a situation where they are terrified to put a foot wrong for fear of the backlash. Experimentation is one of the most exciting things about working in social media and we should encourage our clients to take some risks. They might end up being the next Vodafone, but there’s a chance they may become the next Old Spice!

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