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A double-edged sword, if a public relations campaign goes well, it can be a positive and profitable result for a brand. However, once a corporation asks for input in a public arena, the scheme is fraught with risk.
A previous McDonald's Twitter campaign asked for users to contribute to the hashtag conversations #McStories and #MeetTheFarmer -- no doubt to try and collate positive experiences associated with the brand. What actually happened was the opposite, and an enormous social media storm struck the company.
McDonald's posted a YouTube video of Potato supplier Frank Martinez, in conjunction with a promoted (paid for) tweet that appeared in news feeds across the globe. The linked tweet read:
"When u make something w/pride, people can taste it," - McD potato supplier #McDStories
Within a day or so, a torrent of negative comments appeared through the hashtags, which only stopped once what seems like half the Twitterverse had pitched in.
A Greenpeace campaign against palm oil policies that were considered 'unsustainable' dissolved into a row between the organization and Nestlé, which ended up spilling across multiple social networking platforms.
Greenpeace accused the corporation of advocating an unsustainable policy on their use of palm oil, which in turn meant it was damaging the rain forest. The reaction of social media followers was to post angry comments on the Nestlé Facebook fan page.
A mistake the corporation would commit in reaction to this negative exposure would result in antagonizing the issue further. It became defensive, and in the world of social media, attempting to quash outrage usually results in the opposite effect.
Without professional community channels and managers, the reaction of one (or several) company individuals damaged the brand in the eyes of social media users. Without a correct 'damage control' policy in place, the actual issue was forgotten, and Nestlé's customer service entered the spotlight.
In January 2009, student Alan Parsa found himself in need of a job while studying documentary film making at Chicago's Columbia College.
Like many students before him, he went online to try and find some work, and eventually stumbled across Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk -- promoted as the 'marketplace for work'.
One possible job caught Parsa's eye. Clicking on the link, the job description stated that payment would be given for writing 5/5 (100%) reviews for products manufactured by Belkin. Posters should also 'write the review as if they own the product' and 'thank the website for making you such a great deal'.
Dissatisfied with the dishonest nature of the work, the student quickly blogged about his findings, and it took mere hours to break across the Internet and go viral. The company were slow to respond to the story, and by the time Belkin's president issued an apology, the damage was already done.