You build a marketing strategy, craft your brand, have a good grasp of your online identity, lots of likes and followers on the various social media platforms, and even have developed great connections to your local media…and then you do something really stupid that could potentially blow it all.

Nobody is perfect, and we all makes mistakes – I’ve made some doozers. But there is a real difference between making mistakes, admitting those mistakes and then trying to fix the problem, as opposed to declaring war on your customers and ultimately your own business.

Lets take this little Twitter gem for starters courtesy of the Daily Mail. A customer in your restaurant overhears a waiter being rude about another restaurant owner who the customer happens to know personally. Your customer is not to thrilled with the service already, and finds this behavior to be rather off, so they Tweet about it. What you do not do, as a restaurant owner, is call up from home, ask to speak to the customer in question, curse at them down the phone, and then demand they leave. That, however, is exactly what happened. In the ensuing Twitter onslaught, the restaurant came off far worse and created a massive (the restaurant is in Texas, the Daily Mail is a UK newspaper as an example) amount of negative publicity over a customer service issue. An apology, and a courtesy meal or bottle of wine, could have turned this incident into a minor win instead of this major fail.

Next up, the auto-body shop that after using a photographer’s work on their Facebook page without permission, proceeded to threaten and abuse the photographer on their own Facebook page for all to see. Needless to say, the page went viral over Twitter and Facebook. With the almost universally courteous, and intelligent, posts from supporters of the photographer, and gangsta inspired vitriol from the body shop it could only be seen as a massive marketing failure right in front of the businesses own 500+ fans. I believe the page is now been taken down as I can no longer find it, but if anyone knows if it is still up please drop me a line so I can share the link.

The Airbnb saga, has been done to death but is instructive because even very smart people can do really dumb things. The basic outline is that Airbnb is a service that allows homeowners to rent out a room on a short term basis like a hotel. Unfortunately, when an owner returned to find their apartment trashed, and their identity stolen, Airbnb basically stuck their heads in the sand and appeared to try and discredit the victim to stop her blogging about her experience. After a major backlash, Airbnb added safeguards, an insurance policy, and tried to do the right thing by the victim. But it could be too little too late considering their model is very easy to copy and already has a number of competitors. Most people had never even heard of Airbnb until this story exploded.

Finally, something a bit closer to home, how would you, or your staff, feel about having this tweeted from your hospital by a doctor, or about your pet?

Twitter vet image blanked out

Not only is this amazingly unprofessional, but all it will take is a single person to make the connection between hospital and Twitter account (the account does not identify the hospital, or the doctor, but I have still blanked out what is there in the interests of fairness) and this will become a huge problem. I’m sure it violates the hospital’s social media policy and I’m sure you could make an argument for it also being damaging to the profession to boot!

The bottom line is that your reputation and your brand are fragile. It is very easy for it to be damaged by just forgetting the basics of customer service. Never do anything, or say anything online, that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper or on a billboard. This is an age where it is easier to get your message out than ever before, but it is also just as easy for everyone else. And nothing travels, or goes viral, quite as well as scandal or bad news.

Does anyone have disastrous stories they would like to share or other examples they have seen online? Share with the rest of us in the comments!

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