Social media failures are fast becoming a part of my daily entertainment.  Large and small corporations suddenly naked and unarmed, it is the stuff of slapstick comedy.   We all see that long ladder swinging around except Hardy and…bang!  Laurel knocks him down.   The fun part is that – just like in social media – the stars getting injured often don’t even know what is going on.

Fun, that is, until it comes to your doorstep.   Because what the iPad wielding crowd of advertising cracks won’t tell you is that many things can go wrong. The problem is essentially that Facebook, even more than Google, tends to change everything around with no notice.   They don’t even tell us what exactly they have changed.   It is “magic sauce”.   So you are putting your marketing on a platform which you don’t control.   At all. The analogy I came up with is that you are making public the name and contact details of every lead coming in.   I can see on your wall every “friend” commenting or posting and I can contact him or her.   How bad is that?

It all started as I was writing about social media failures on a Greek branding blog.  A summary of common or famous mistakes, anything from rogue employees to Boeing not responding warmly enough to fuzzy kids drawings.   Incoming message was about a social media conference in Athens and one of the topics was “how Lacta got to have the biggest Facebook brand page in Greece”.   (You can watch it here.)   Maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I just didn’t appreciate the tone, mostly for fun I put up a picture on their wall.   Their brand of chocolates but they fell out of the bag roughly in the shape of male genitalia.  Only if you have a dirty mind of course, I noticed the snow and the scenery personally of course.

Whoops!   Three hundred thousand fans of the chocolate saw it.   If I was Osama Bin Laden this would be the equivalent of CNN giving me a five minute interview to express my views. It is as if Lacta spent all this money and energy to build a wall, a media platform on which I can shout anything I want.   And they can’t stop me!  In fact a junior person in the team even clicked “like” from their own brand on it!   The picture attracted more likes and was on the wall for a while before they pulled it off.   Of course the photo remained in the “Photos” section of their Facebook page for several days.   I did another post, they read it and eventually pulled it off from there too.   I talked about useful paradigms from technology, well here is a great one for social media: this is just like the way we explore security vulnerabilities!

I can think of hundreds of awful things to do to a brand with social media which won’t even cost much in time all of which have a pretty good chance of enabling a negative backlash.   As I explained in another post today, it will happen even without your competitors hiring me.   As soon as you reach a critical mass of people that like you and express it publicly, you can be sure that a new group of people, negatively charged will appear.   And some of them will want to hurt you.

You can patch a software vulnerability and it is final.   Negative publicity however is much harder to deal with.