Beware Social Media Faux Pas During The HolidaysBy Peter LaMotte

No business sets out to commit a social media faux pas—especially during the holiday season.

But as the following examples illustrate, even big brands fall prey to social media missteps that cost them some holiday goodwill, and even worse, paying customers.

Kmart and Auto-Reply

In 2013, Kmart announced its stores would be open on Thanksgiving Day, offering discount-hungry consumers plenty of extra hours to buy gifts for Christmas.

But the mega-retailer was caught flat-footed by indignant tweets concerning the burden these extra hours placed on Kmart employees, taken away from their families on this family-focused holiday.

One representative Tweet read:

Typical @Kmart crap opening for 41 hours straight they are a dying company so they are taking full advantage of black Friday.

Instead of recognizing the firestorm it had created, Kmart responded to more than 100 such messages with the same “robotic” response:

Kmart is staffing w/teams & seasonal associates when possible, giving them opportunity to make extra money during holiday.

The overall effect of this seemingly automated response was that of a large, insensitive company disseminating the same, blanket message over and over again, rather than acknowledging consumer complaints with a more heartfelt response.

Hallmark and Holiday Cheer

Hallmark also ran into social media trouble in 2013. The giant greeting card business created and distributed a Christmas tree ornament with these words printed on front: “Don we now our fun apparel” (an obviously edited version of the line from a famous Christmas carol, “Don we now our gay apparel”).

As Melissa Carter at The Georgia Voice points out

After the ornament was released, the Hallmark Facebook page was flooded with complaints. The comments accused the company of everything from censorship to homophobia.

In response, Hallmark issued this statement:

When the lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ were translated from Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s, the word ‘gay’ meant festive or merry. Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation. So the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’ That’s the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers will take it.

Unfortunately, this polite attempt to educate the public about Gaelic tradition failed to stem the tide of outrage in cyberspace.

Typical customer messages included such tweets as, “Do they support fun marriage?” and “Why did you change gay to fun? Do you still have Christmas cards, or just generic holiday cards now?”

Hallmark felt obliged to release yet another statement:

We’ve been surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed about the change of lyrics on this ornament, and we’re sorry to have caused so much concern. We never intend to offend or make political statements with our products and in hindsight, we realize we shouldn’t have changed the lyrics on the ornament.

Melissa Carter’s take?

My advice is stop trying so hard. There are those accusing the gay community of being overly sensitive to the ornament issue, but it seems to me that Hallmark was originally over-thinking it.

Avoid These Holiday Social Media Faux Pas

Aside from being careful in the wording of your tweets and Facebook postings, here are other faux pas to avoid:

  • Don’t take a break from social media activity during the holiday season. Keep your channels open for customer service 24/7.
  • Don’t exploit the good feeling of the season by indulging in holiday-related self-promotion. And never spam your audience! Focus as you do throughout the year on providing content of value to fans and followers.
  • Don’t offer holiday discounts or sponsor contests that fail to clearly describe the process and the reward. “… where customers do not understand an offering, this can lead to confusion and negative feedback,” warns Mac Karlekar of Accenture Digital. “The audience in social media can be too broad for a discount tactic to be effective.”
  • Don’t forget to send out a “Best wishes for the holidays” message. Better yet, try to come up with something imaginative and unique to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Throughout the year, a thriving social media presence can significantly help to boost your brand and reputation. Build on this goodwill during the holiday season, but always pay extra attention to what you choose to say and how you say it.

Peter LaMotte

Peter LaMotte is a senior vice president at LEVICK and chair of the firm’s digital communications practice. He is a contributing author to LEVICK Daily, where he routinely writes about social media marketing and online reputation management.

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