Bearing the blunder

We’ve learned enough about social media by now to know it has incredible potential – to both expand your brand, and to destroy it.

I liked reading the examples of successful campaigns (revisiting the Old Spice one made me reflect and chuckle, I love that guy), but I was also really curious to learn more about social media campaigns that didn’t quite work out; the ones that shot high and fell hard. How did those companies deal with their failures? What were the outcomes? Does a bad social media campaign ruin your brand for life?


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I studied communications and public relations in school (like a decade ago so things have obviously changed a lot), but I remember really enjoying the segments discussing crisis communications.

This is such a huge part of managing your company’s brand. You need a team of experts fully prepared, at the front lines of defense, in case something goes terribly wrong; whether it’s a toxic troll demolishing your image, one of your products gone bad, or a band wagon of negative activity online, you need to be ready for the worst.

More importantly, you need to know how to respond. You kind of have to think of your brand as a person, with human qualities and traits. What would this person do if someone said something terrible about them? What would this person do if they made a big mistake? Would they be gracious and apologize, or fight and stubbornly defend their actions?

Personifying your brand is a tremendous part of building it.

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I remember really liking the example of the Maple Leafs debacle. Following news of a deadly Listeriosis outbreak affecting their products, Maple Leaf meats CEO Michael McCain was faced with the daunting task of confronting a sea of disgruntled customers. It was possibly one of the biggest company errors in history. But the reason he went down in PR history was all because of his response.

What did he do, you ask? It’s simple.

He apologized.


Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain was voted 2008 Business Newsmaker of the Year in 2008 in a survey by The Canadian Press for his handling of the deadly listeriosis outbreak linked to a company plant in Toronto.(Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

McCain faced the public with such empathy, grace and sincerity, that he hit the top of the charts in crisis communications strategies. The public accepted his apology, thanked him for his candor, and Maple Leaf Meats lived to see another day. It’s amazing what can happen if you’re just real with people – if you simply just appeal to the human within them. How did Maple Leaf personify their brand? They made him a genuine, relatable guy who knows when he’s done something wrong – and who doesn’t like a guy like that? Who doesn’t forgive someone who takes the blame and pleads for forgiveness?

Inspired by my fond memories of McCain, I did a little reading and came across an interesting article that highlighted some of the most well renowned social media blunders.

Honestly, some of them were hard to read.

The first example was recalling a swiftly terrible move from the US Air Force. Remember the whole yanny-laurel debate that conquered our social media pages for a week back in May 2018?  So a lot of brands tried to jump on the coattails of that fun little experiment. While people were arguing and debating whether the audio clip said “yanny” or “laurel”, brands were piping in and posting social media posts, writing things like “forget yanny and laurel, pretty sure you just hear [insert brand here]!”

Super corny, right? But whatever, they did their best and they didn’t hurt anyone.

The US Air Force, on the other hand, completely fumbled.

In response to all the uproar, they tweeted:

“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10. Read more:”.

Basically, they took a funny Internet debate and brought the death of other humans into the situation. So what’s this brand’s personality like? Well aside from the fact that they should have used Bitly for the link, they were unprofessional, distasteful, and widely inappropriate – to name a few.

Listen, I do stand up comedy. I get the difficulty in trying to make light of heavy situations, and help people laugh about the things in life that suck. But there are just some topics you really shouldn’t touch.

So what do we do? 

Maybe with super sensitive topics like death and war, just go easy on the humor tactic. And honestly, even the fact that a serious organization like the US Air Force tried to ride the popularity wave of a silly Internet meme stands to question. Those guys are too professional to pull off that kind of tomfoolery – stay in your lane US Air Force.

Everything seems to have worked out for them though. They basically did exactly what McCain did – they accepted full responsibility for the error, and apologized with sincerity. I feel like McCain may have set the bar on crisis communications – when you’ve so clearly made a mistake, perhaps it’s just best practice to cut your losses and say sorry. That’s what I believe anyways – in life, and in social media.

What’s your policy?

The article was a helpful read, anyway. It’s good to know what works, but even better to know what doesn’t. But reading about the social media blunders just reinforces the opinions I felt in my previous discussion post – that you kind of need to “get it” in order to write these things.

That guy who wrote the tweet for US Air Force clearly didn’t have enough insight, human understanding or emotional intelligence to know that something like that would NOT fly. If companies fail in their social media campaigns, should they fire the person responsible and hire someone more emotionally intelligent?

At the end of the day, social media is all so new and confounding. Only in the last five years have we been able to solidify best practices based on real-life concrete examples of what does, or doesn’t work.

In the broad scheme of social history, social media is still in its beta phase. We’re all trying to navigate the abyss together, so mistakes will obviously be made.

I wonder when we’ll stop being so forgiving though? Will there ever come a time when social media is streamlined so well that we won’t have so many mistakes?

Facebook post: Social media for business is tough. We’re in the beta phase, and mistakes are bound to happen. But how do we deal with those mistakes? Can brands survive the turmoil of a bad social media campaign? Read more here:

Twitter post: So your social media campaign didn’t work. What now? #blunders #crisiscommunications






Too close for comfort

There’s no doubt in my mind that social media monitoring is a critical step in any social media strategy. If you’re not listening to what your consumers are saying about you then what are you doing, besides just mindlessly shooting products and services out into the universe and hoping for the best? That, my friend, is called traditional marketing, and it’s on the outs.

So what’s in? Conversations. Dialogues. The quintessential two-way street – we now live in a world where they talk, we talk back, they listen, and voila.

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After emerging myself in a sea of social media research, my mind buzzing from an overload of catchy social media tool names like “Buffer” and “Sprout”, I couldn’t help but think about the very big elephant in the room; the question that constantly plagues me, but one I’ve been too afraid to Google, until now.

My question is: we know companies are listening to us – but exactly how close are they listening? And how close, is too close?

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The dark side of social listening

Black Friday recently passed us by. You know, Black Friday? That one day of the year that might as well be triathlon training for company Christmas sales? So I was texting my friend about going on a big shopping spree. I said I needed a new TV. She said she wanted a new vacuum, but a cute little modern one.

Literally less than 24 hours later, I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and what do I see? Cute, little modern vacuums. Bursting out of the page, at $279 a pop.



Weird right? But it didn’t stop there. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed that day, I saw a whole lot more than the usual posts of my cousin’s baby dancing to Ariana Grande.

I saw TVs. Everywhere.

Best buy, the Source, Walmart – each and every one of those mass conglomerate mongrels knew I was on a mission to enhance my living room entertainment experience, and they were on me like white on rice.

Has this ever happened to you? Honestly this has happened to me so many times now, that the initial fright and sense of violation has sort of worn down into a warm, gooey glob of acceptance. Maybe this is just the way things are now?

Getting to the bottom of it

Trust Vice to tell the real story about what’s going on. Vice writer Sam Nichols interviewed Dr. Peter Henway, senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterix and according to him, it’s true: our phones are listening.

It would appear that in order to actually record our conversations, our phones need to hear some kind of trigger word, like “Google” or “hey Siri”. But as the article states, “in the absence of these triggers, any data you provide is processed within your own phone” – meaning, any third party applications you have, like Facebook, still have access to this “non-triggered” data, and it’s up to them whether or not they want to use it.

Peter goes on to say that from time to time, little bits of audio clips trace back to social media servers from your phone, but there’s no way to know what triggers send them there. These apps on your phone could have thousands of unidentifiable triggers: from a regular WhatsApp chat with your friend about vacuums, to a quick snapshot of TVs from your online Best Buy cart.

So, are they listening?

What worries me is that just because these apps “could” utilize this technology, we still can’t know if they actually do – especially Facebook, who recently denied that they listen to our private conversations. But Peter said that Google already openly admitted they do, so what’s stopping Facebook from doing the same?

Seemingly struck by the same curiosity as me, Peter decided to test this theory and purposefully utter a bunch of phrases out loud that could theoretically be used as triggers. If you finish the article you’ll either be shocked, scared, or intrigued (depending on how you feel about all this), to see what happened.

In the end he said we don’t really need to worry. Unless you’re a lawyer or journalist protecting some secret pile of sensitive information, you pretty much just have to go about your consumerist life the best you can. And if you’re curious, most of these posts provide the option to “read why you’re seeing this ad”, so I guess that level of transparency can be somewhat reassuring?

Privacy vs. Acceptance

I turn the floor to you guys. Does this kind of revelation worry you? When I do personal inventory of my relationships, it seems like all the baby boomers in my life are in complete shock and disgust of all this, but all my Gen Y peers don’t really seem to mind. They’ve become warm gooey globs of indifference, just like me.

Is it just because technology’s quips and quirks simply don’t surprise us anymore? Are we just numb and immune to it all, having grown up with it? Should we be more outraged that this is actually happening?

Oh and in case you were wondering, I did manage to get a TV. $400 off. You win this time, Best Buy!

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Facebook post: Social media monitoring is key for big businesses to thrive. We talk, they listen, and better products are made for our enjoyment. But where do we cross the line with how much we let them hear? Does strategic listening mean eradicating private conversation all together? Read more here:

Twitter post: We know big companies are listening, but just how close it too close for comfort? Read more here: #privacy #social



Your brand wasn’t built in a day

Blog # 2 by Holly Clark, from the Introduction to Social Media (COM0011) class.

So all this talk about becoming a “brand” has really got me thinking.

Listen, I get it. I know if you want to gain influence, you have to walk the walk, talk the talk. Drink the koolaid – get online and start filling in the fields that describe who you are to the world.

My question is: what if you simply don’t know yet? Or what if you find yourself in one of life’s biggest limbos, where you’re in transition, or struggling, or say, battling with depression or addiction? Do we lie to the world and write down the brand that we wish we could be? The brand we one day aspire to be? Does our online brand become the measure to which we work towards? I once read that the definition of anxiety is the space between who you are, and who you want to be. Is that what people are talking about when they say social media evokes anxiety?

Maybe we simply are who we are, and our online personality is whom we want others to see; the version of ourselves that doesn’t yet exist. Does anxiety breed in the space in between?

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I understand this is a really critical, nihilistic view of social media. If you haven’t guessed by now, I like to push buttons and ask difficult questions before jumping on bandwagons. But my question is: what should we choose to share, and what should we choose to hide?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about social media consumption and addiction; how the rise of mental health awareness moves simultaneously with the growing popularity of social networking. I also wrote about mental health in my last blog – clearly there is a trend emerging here!

In Lesson 4, we read a lot about separating our personal and professional personas. We read about tips and tricks – how to be unique, yet still authentic. But I can’t help but feel the strain of contradiction there. How can we be a verified brand with a shiny blue check mark, and still be our authentic, imperfect selves?

I recently read this article in Adweek about how social media is changing the conversation around addiction, and it provided me with a bit of hope. I understand this is a sensitive topic. Not everyone wants to be overtly honest and candid about personal struggles online – that’s why philosophies like the AA anonymity still exist. But we can’t deny that with the advent of technology, we’ve also seen an incredible rise in mental health and addictions awareness. People don’t hide the way they used to. We’ve opened a discussion, a dialogue, around mental health, wherein people find solace relating to one another online. Major companies like Bell have capitalized on this trend, implementing game-changing hash tags like #BellLetsTalk into their social media campaigns. We’ve seen an influx of influential addiction memoirs, such as Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: a Love Story” and Sarah Heppola’s Blackout. There’s a bunch of new shows on Netflix that tackle addiction in creative, inclusive ways.


Gillian Jacobs plays Mickey in “Love.” (Suzanne Hanover/Netflix). Photo taken from 

Addiction is undeniably on our minds, and it’s on our screens.

There’s evidence that this acknowledgement can be incredibly cathartic. As the article explains, “status updates and comments on Facebook are, in effect, fluid, open diaries written in real-time by those in the trenches of addiction, whether celebrating another day sober, dispatching a cry for help or grieving the loss of a friend to overdose”. They’re effective, because they are real. As Robb-Dover writes, “these real and personalized glimpses of the addiction epidemic have more compelling, mass appeal—akin to that of a social protest, for example—than what a celebrity talking head might generate in a public -service announcement.”

This movement, in my humble opinion, is combating the precise pain point of addiction – isolation. It’s reminding people that not only are they never alone, they’re actually part of an entire community of support standing together against the pain. In that sense, do we need to stay anonymous anymore? Should we? Do we need to mold our brands into these flawless, superhero versions of ourselves? Or is this hindering the very fire fueling this historic movement?

Maybe we should only be anonymous until we’ve improved ourselves, and then share our tales? Or do we keep everyone in the loop every step of the way?

It’s a big question, and I understand the answer may be different for everyone. Everyone has their own unique journey; both in their mental health, and subsequently “building their brand” whatever form that may take. But I think the important thing to remember is you’re not actually a “brand”, at least not in the commercial way. You’re not Kraft or Nike. You’re a human being, with a beating heart, and you’re a work in progress – we all are.

So before you go filling out online fields about who you are, be honest with yourself about who you are right now. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither was your brand, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Protect your account, protect your mind

a post by Holly Clark, student of COM0011 – Introduction to social media.

While I may consider myself a self-professed social media fanatic who undoubtedly understands the professional benefits possible with such tools, I definitely recognize the reality that social media, if abused or used violently, can be detrimental to mental health and social stability.

With great power, comes great responsibility, and social media is a perfect example of that.

I read this Guardian article recently and it sparked my interest, not only because it hit a nerve, but because it provided results issued from a British public engagement group I used to volunteer for called Involve.

The article states that approximately 3,400 young people, aged 14-25, were surveyed in England and expressed extreme discontent with the state of social media, outlining some very worrisome repercussions. What struck me initially was how displeased and self-aware these youth are about social media; I think we see kids these days snapping and tweeting, glued to their screens and automatically assume that not only are they enjoying every minute of our social revolution, but they’ve truly just got it all “figured out”, whilst we less knowledgeable elderly users struggle to figure out which hash tag to use.

It’s actually kind of reaffirming to know that young people see the benefits, but also the pitfalls and threats associated with social media.

When I think about my own relationship with social media, I can recount a number of times I’ve felt anxiety about it all. I mean, I think we all have. You break up with your boyfriend, and then your Facebook news feed informs you he’s “liked” a picture of a pretty girl you’ve never seen before. Jealously ensues. You see your best friend has created an event, to which you haven’t been invited: loneliness and isolation seeps in. These types of scenarios are countless. Sometimes scrolling through social media feels like sitting alone in the corner at a party, listening to people’s conversations, hearing your name, and trying to act coy while you eavesdrop. How can you say that’s healthy for the mind?

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I was impressed with the intelligent suggestions put forth by some of these students in the article. One suggestion addressed the need for a “social media mental health service” through which people can access online support. Imagine that, online support for bullying?

Another point highlighted the possibility of hiding notifications about who liked what, from certain people. A great suggestion, for sure, but at what point are we censoring and shaping an unpredictable life force that was originally intended to be a free-for-all in the realm of free expression?

Social media is a platform for people to express themselves; whether you like what they have to say or not – so are we expected to just take the bad with the good? Is it possible to shelter people from things they don’t want to see online? And if that’s the case, I just worry that social media will take us further down this trail of inauthenticity. We’re always only posting the positive things; my aunt had a baby, I just got engaged, everything is great, everything is perfect. Apply filter, force a smile, and project your perfect image to the outside world. If we’re hiding from the negative things online, are we hiding from reality even more?

I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate here, because the truth is I actually do believe we need to address the mental health impacts of social media; and I think implementing some kind of online service would be very beneficial. I can’t even imagine would it would be like to be a child today. Being bullied in school was hard enough – adding abusive Facebook posts to the mix just sounds treacherous. So yes, I do like where this article is taking us. And I think studies like this need to be performed and written about more often. I understand we’re all here in class to celebrate the benefits of social media, which is great, but to ignore the darkness of it all would be naïve. So let’s address it.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets bullied! British public engagement firm Involve surveyed youth aged 15-25 about the severe mental health effects from social media, and here’s what they had to say. Is it time to take action? #mentalhealth #cyberbullying

protect your account, protect your mind – how much anxiety does social media cause you? #mentalhealth #cyberbullying