PR Lessons from Social Media Blunders

February 26, 2013

By: Justine and Sylvie
This month provided some learning experiences for public relations professionals thanks to the social media missteps of a couple of prominent organizations. We take a look at these cases and examine what happened versus the social media best practices that should have taken place.
Blunder: Elon Musk takes on the Times on Twitter.
After a negative review by John Broder of The New York Times about Tesla's Model S, CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to air his grievances, calling the review “fake” and publishing the vehicle logs to prove that it was Broder's failure to follow instructions, and not the car itself, that caused the poor mileage.
Lesson learned: Before storming onto Twitter, Musk should've consulted his team on how to address the review. And his team should've advised him to quietly take up the issue with Broder or his editor. Even backed up by the logs, by starting a war of words, Musk looks like an overreacting crybaby. All of this hurts not only Musk's own reputation, but also Tesla's reputation and company stock, which dipped the day Musk publicly blasted Broder.
Blunder: Internet outrage on pastor's receipt brings Applebee's PR fail to light.
A few weeks ago, a St. Louis pastor refused to pay the standard 18 percent gratuity on her congregation party's bill. Her reasoning, noted on the bill, read: “I give God 10% Why do you get 18?” A server posted a picture of the pastor's receipt to Reddit, where it went viral. The pastor demanded the staff member be fired. The St. Louis Applebee's social media team updated the company's Facebook status as its official statement regarding the disciplinary action on the server. There was an overwhelming response from the public, commentary and arguments from the company's Facebook page administrator, and alleged deletion of negative comments.
Lesson learned: By engaging in arguments on social media, Applebee's angered audiences further with its censorship of customer feedback, which will hurt the brand long-term. Applebee's should have carefully crafted its social media messages, so that emotional states didn't result in regrettable posts and damage to the company's reputation.

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