Why PR stunts backfire on social media

By Martin Zavan, ninemsn
2:38pm December 4, 2012
Biggest PR fails
View Fullscreen

Air New Zealand was thrown into the spotlight this week after an embarrassing PR fail — the airline published a joke on its website that implied a disgraced female shot putter had testicles.

The joke about Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who was stripped of her gold medal at the London Games for doping, landed the company in hot water on social media where it was accused of transphobia.

But Air New Zealand certainly isn't the only company to spark uproar with an ill-conceived online publicity stunt in recent times.

Just last week budget airline Jetstar was forced to mop up a social media mess after a prankster set up a fake but official-looking Jetstar Facebook page, which taunted customers and rudely dismissed their pleas for help.

Earlier in November British Airways was embroiled in a PR fail of its own making when it re-tweeted a racist and expletive-laden rant to its 210,000 followers.

The airline was forced to apologise and "investigate" how the blunder, that made headlines around the world, occurred.

Karalee Evans, head of digital at public relations firm Text100, said many companies are still learning how to use social media.

"Though Facebook and Twitter have been here for some time brands are still getting to grips with it and they're still in the learning process, even bigger brands," she said.

Ms Evans told ninemsn that social media blunders could often be attributed to a lack of communication inside companies.

"Social media does not work well when it's isolated within a business. It works best when there is cross-business involvement. So the person managing Facebook or Twitter has a whole of business understanding," she said.

"Most examples of fails we have seen have been when the social media user is unaware of other elements within the business."

This may have been the case in what Ms Evans suggested could be Australia's biggest ever social media fail — Qantas's luxury flight experience fiasco.

In the wake of the airline's controversial and unpopular grounding last year the carrier invited Twitter users to write about their "dream luxury in-flight experience".

Within an hour the #QantasLuxury hashtag was trending across the country but the overwhelming majority of respondents ridiculed the airline over their fleet's recent grounding.

@GrogsGamut tweeted that his dream would be "when the passengers arrive before the couriers delivering the lockout notices do."

Mark Colvin of ABC Radio wrote "getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire."

But Ms Evans said fails should not deter firms from social media.

"Disasters should not put a business off social media — they need to put these fails into perspective," she said.

Ms Evans added that the Qantas luxury fail did not have a big long-term impact on brand sentiment or travel rates.

The PR strategist said before businesses attempt to use social media they should think about what they want to achieve, how they plan to do it and how they can integrate the two.

"Always listen and always be ready to activate what you are told online and have that cross-business conversation before you go and create a social media strategy and plan," she said.

Source: Karalee Evans, Twitter, Air New Zealand

Author: Martin Zavan, Approving editor: Nick Pearson

© ninemsn 2014
Do you have any story leads, photos or videos?