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Guest Post: Social Media Snafus of 2011 - A Study in HR Best Practices

Written by Kyle Lagunas, the HR Analyst at Software Advice. This article originally appeared on his blog here and it gives insights into what we should be learning from the worst social media blunders over the past year..

When something goes wrong in the office, HR inevitably gets called in for damage control. This applies when an organisation’s use of social media goes wrong, too. As I read through lists of the top social media blunders in 2011, I thought, Wow, I’m glad I’m not managing HR there.

Digging a little deeper, though, I realized that these blunders offer some great insights into social media best practices. As organisations begin crafting formal social media policies, there are certain situations and mishaps for which they should be prepared.

In this article, I’ll look at a few of the more entertaining social media snafus of 2011 as snapshot studies of the kinds of challenges HR might face in 2012.

Four Fires You Should Be Glad You Didn’t Fight

The blogosphere was happy to report some epic failures in corporate and nonprofit use of social media in 2011. Here are the four that stood out to me, along with their implications for HR departments.

1. Carelessness at Chrysler. For a large company like Chrysler, hiring an agency like New Media Strategies to manage its social media presence made perfect sense. It was a smooth ride (pun intended), until one agency rep mistakenly sent out a tweet disparaging Detroit drivers from the @ChryslerAutos account. How disparaging?

To restore the client’s faith in the agency’s staff, immediate termination of the responsible employee is a given here. But organisations need a realistic strategy for avoiding this kind of mistake in the first place. One solution is to tightly control access to corporate social media accounts – not just by whom, but also by device type (no smartphones) and time of day (nothing gets tweeted after office hours).

Some basic employee training to promote restraint could go a long way, too.

“It’s critical that people stop and re-read what they’re writing,” warns Digital Strategist Claire England.

“We’ve learned to do this for email, but it’s even more important with social media because it’s real-time. The minute you hit send, it’s out there.”

It’s not rocket science, but creating a bit of structure around your social media usage could do wonders for the number of mishaps that occur.

2. Breakdowns in Communication at Qantas. For Australian airline Qantas, there was an obvious corporate communications disconnect when launching a Twitter campaign in November. They asked followers to describe their “dream luxury in-flight experience” using the hashtag #QantasLuxurythe day after Qantas and its unions stopped contract talks.

Amid widespread disruptions in service (the entire fleet had been grounded in October), customers lashed out by hijacking the campaign’s hashtag to voice their complaints.

Things were surely a bit hectic at Qantas headquarters while contract talks were underway, but it’s hard to imagine no one in leadership would think to delay this initiative. Did marketing miss the memo?

It’s a case in point on the importance of making it easy to quickly distribute key communications, not to mention the value in maintaining a degree of transparency in less-than-ideal times. When it comes to managing social media presence, these kinds of breakdowns in communication can have serious consequences. Establishing clear channels for communicating need-to-know information to key players in your social media management team is a must.

3. Kutcher’s Quickfire Backfire. Ashton Kutcher, the new star in CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”, sent out a particularly nightmarish tweet last month which seemingly supported Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach fired over his failure to report a paedophile in 2002. Tweeting to 8.5 million followers, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #no class as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” Kutcher pleaded ignorance, claiming that he wasn’t up on the alleged Penn State child abuse scandal. He offered an apology via Twitter but the damage was done.

As many organisations are learning, not everyone is equipped to keep small blunders from turning into social media firestorms – even if your “organisation” is the brand behind a celebrity figure. There needs to be a process for managing your online presence.

When building a social media strategy, be it for sourcing and recruiting talent or for branding and advertising – your plan should ensure your people have a course of action outlined for cleaning up small mishaps before they become big messes. In the end, Kutcher got the message and turned over management of his Twitter account to his PR team.

4. American Red Cross Turns it Around. Some debacles have a happy ending. An employee of The American Red Cross sent out an inappropriate tweet via the @RedCross account indicating that employees were getting “slizzered” on Dogfish Head beer.

To the surprise of many (and the joy of a vested few), Wendy Harman, Social Media Director for the Red Cross, was able to turn this around with grace and good humor. The rogue tweet was down within the hour, and Harman responded with a tweet assuring that the Red Cross was sober, adding, “we’ve confiscated the keys.”

Meanwhile, they retained the (very embarrassed) employee, and Dogfish Head took the opportunity to launch a fundraising campaign for the Red Cross.

Because of their quick and classy response, the Red Cross turned a PR nightmare into a lesson in humility, and has been earning kudos since. This indicates a strong sense of teamwork and unity in the organization. “We are an organisation that deals with life-changing disasters and this wasn’t one of them,” Harman told Mashable. “It was just a little mistake.”

This Year’s Blunders: A Boon for HR in 2012?

While it’s easy to look back on social media snafus and share a laugh, HR professionals have their work cut out for them in the next year. For England, “The interesting thing is that, though the blunders are getting lots of attention, the root causes of those blunders are not. How can companies avoid these issues in the first place?” This presents a great opportunity for HR to step up to the plate and spearhead the design, implementation and oversight of formal social media policies for their organisations.

What blunders have you come across in the last year? Does your organisation have a social media policy? Any social media resolutions for 2012? Feel free to share your anecdotes and insights below!

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