Social Media Snafus – Implications for HR

Oops!! When well-known organisations make big social media blunders, what can it mean for HR?

Blogger Kyle Lagunas has something to say about that in the following guest post. He highlights some very public blunders that occurred in 2011 involving such well-known sources as Qantas, Ashton Kutcher and even the Red Cross.  What implications do you see for HR?

HR’s Take on 2011’s Top Social Media Snafus by Kyle Lagunas

The blogosphere was happy to report some epic failures in large organizations’ use of social media in 2011. As I read through these lists (there were many), I thought, Wow, I’m glad I’m not managing HR there. You see, when something goes wrong in the office, HR inevitably gets called in for damage control. This applies when an organization’s use of social media goes wrong, too. Digging a little deeper into the top social media blunders, I realized that these  mishaps offer some great insights into social media best practices.

As organizations begin crafting formal social medial policies, there are certain situations and mishaps for which they should be prepared. Here are the three snafus that stood out to me as having some serious lessons to learn from an HR perspective:

 1. Communications Disconnect at Qantas. When launching a Twitter campaign in November, Qantas–the premiere airline in Australia–had a serious breakdown in communications. Amid widespread disruptions in service (the entire fleet had been grounded in October) they attempted to create some positive energy by asking followers to describe their
“dream luxury in-flight experience” using the hashtag #QantasLuxury.  The problem? The campaign launched the day after Qantas and its unions stopped contract talks. Customers hijacked the campaign’s untimely campaign and used the hashtag to voice serious complaints.

 When managing your social media presence, these kinds of breakdowns in communication can have serious consequences. As such, establishing clear channels for disseminating need-to-know information to key players in your management team is a must.  Qantas’ mishap is a case in point on the importance of making it easy to quickly distribute key communications, not to mention the value in maintaining a degree of transparency in less-than-ideal times.

2. Kutcher’s Quickfire Backfire. As many organizations are learning, not everyone is equipped to keep small blunders from turning into social media firestorms–even if your  “organization” is the brand behind a celebrity figure. There needs to be a process for managing your online presence. CBS’ new “Two and a Half Men” star, Ashton Kutcher, sent out a particularly nightmarish tweet to 8.5 million followers in November which seemingly supported Joe Paterno: “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #no class as a hawkeye fan I find it in
poor taste.”

Kutcher pleaded ignorance, claiming that he wasn’t up on the alleged Penn State child abuse scandal. He offered an apology via Twitter but the damage was done. When building a social media strategy–be it for sourcing and recruiting talent or for branding and advertising–your plan should ensure your people have a course of action outlined for cleaning up small mishaps before they become big messes.  In the end, Kutcher got the message and turned over management of his Twitter account to his PR team.

3. American Red Cross Turns it Around. Some debacles have a happy ending. An employee of The American Red Cross sent out an inappropriate tweet via the @RedCross account indicating that employees were getting “slizzered” on Dogfish Head beer. To the surprise of many (and the joy of a vested few), Wendy Harman, Social Media Director for the Red Cross, was able to turn this around with grace and good humor. The rogue tweet was down within the hour, and Harman responded with a tweet assuring that the Red Cross was sober, adding, “we’ve confiscated the keys.” Meanwhile, they retained the (very embarrassed) employee, and Dogfish Head took the opportunity to launch a fundraising campaign for the Red Cross.

Because of their quick and classy response, the Red Cross turned a PR nightmare into a lesson in humility, and has been earning kudos since. This indicates a strong sense of teamwork and unity in the organization. “We are an organization that deals with life-changing disasters and this wasn’t one of them,” Harman told Mashable. “It was just a little mistake.”

Last Year’s Blunders: A Boon for HR in 2012?

While it’s easy to look back on social media snafus and share a laugh, HR professionals have their work cut out for them in the next year. The blunders of 2011 present a great opportunity for HR to step up to the plate and spearhead the design, implementation and oversight of formal social media policies for their organizations.

About the Author:
Kyle Lagunas is the HR
Analyst at Software Advice. On the surface, it’s his job to contribute to the ongoing conversation on all things HR.  Beyond that, he makes sure his audience is keeping up with important trends and hot topics in the industry. Focused on  offering a fresh take on points of interest in his market, he’s not your typical HR guy.




  1. Anonymous on January 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    One small mistake can have serious consequences in the world of social media. That’s why it’s important that you have a policy in place that promotes best practices and enforces guidelines that prevent mishaps. I posted a follow-up piece to that end. Would love to have your thoughts:

    • Christine McLeod on January 30, 2012 at 7:15 am

      Thanks so much for the posts x2 Kyle!