The 10 worst PR disasters of 2012

PAN Media

This post is courtesy of Michael Sebastian and originally appeared on Ragan's PR Daily.

December 19, 2012

It might seem 2012 was riddled with public relations disasters. It was, after all, an election year, marked by a steady stream of “gaffes” by various candidates.

The gaffes didn’t stop with the politicians. Rarely a week went by when PR Daily, or any number of publications, wasn’t highlighting a brand’s misstep on social media.

Those missteps, however, were often brief flare-ups that burned brightly for a matter of days—sometimes mere hours—before fading into the ether of the Web.

Most incidents on this list go beyond political gaffes du jour and histrionic social media blunders. Many on this list represent mistakes so large, and sometimes so systemic, they shook companies, startups, and nonprofits to their core, derailed (or nearly derailed) billion-dollar political campaigns, and destroyed the legacy of an icon.

In descending order (from No. 10 to No. 1), here the worst PR disasters of 2012:

10. President Obama’s first debate

In the run-up to the first presidential debate, President Obama enjoyed a comfortable lead over his opponent Mitt Romney. Most pundits agreed that if the president logged even an average performance, he might coast to a second term.

Just minutes into the Oct. 3 debate, it was clear that average would be the best-case scenario for the commander-in-chief. The president stammered through several loping answers on policy and seemed out of his league against the confident, tough-talking Mitt Romney. By the time it was over, Romney had dispelled much of the stuffed-suit persona for which he was known, and had breathed new life into his campaign. The polls quickly tightened.

Though the strong performance of Romney can’t be discounted, it was the president’s failure that made the debate such a one-sided affair. Obama managed to claw his way back thanks, in part, to his playful acknowledgement of his lack of preparation for the debate, as well as stronger showings in the candidates’ second and third meetings. Still, the poor performance could have cost him the election.

9. Hashtag hijacking

Numerous brands experienced a new social media pitfall this year: the Twitter hijacking. It occurs when a group of people steer a Twitter conversation that’s hosted by an organization to a negative or humorous place. The conversations are usually based on a hashtag and often promoted by the company (meaning they pay for it).

For example, McDonald’s launched a promoted hashtag, #McDStories, in March, asking Twitter users to share their stories about the fast-food giant. The conversation quickly veered off course, when people used the hashtag to bash the company. Critics called the incident a “McFail.”

McDonald’s wasn’t the only organization to fall victim to Twitter hijacking. Newsweek, the White House, and Starbucks all experienced similar instances.

Perhaps its time brands rethink their use of hashtags.

Continue reading at Ragan's PR Daily...

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