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By Jos Scharrer, MD Scharrer Advertising.

   It certainly didn't take long for hundreds of people to start tweeting away with nasty comments about Acasa following the Durban Airport Chaos on the afternoon of the Semi Final. By morning John Robbie on 702 was beside himself at the inane comments made by an Acasa spokeswoman – blaming everybody else including the weather and African culture, for messing up months of excited and expensive planning by over 700 fans, whose planes couldn't land. (Just watch this storm blow bigger!)
   With today's social media, those arrogant public comments by companies after a serious stuff-up, just don't wash any more. Acasa should have been sending out SO SORRY twitters and messages on the web that very same night, to attempt to counteract the very nasty things people were beginning to tweet about them.
   It all reminded me of the YouTube video made last year: United Breaks Guitars. It's about one passenger whose guitar was broken while being loaded on one of their planes. Check it out on YouTube. When I last looked, it had nearly 8.8 million views. At first, United ignored it. Then they blamed the airports company and replied to the unfortunate passenger to the following effect: "This is the fault of the airport's company that handle the luggage and so it wasn't our responsibility that your precious guitar was broken". (Why do companies always do that?) Well that statement, just like Acasa's, simply didn't wash away the damage. They should have said: "So SORRY that bad baggage incident spoilt your flight with us. We'll give the company that broke your guitar hell. Meantime, here's a new guitar with our best wishes, and hope you'll fly with us again soon". Then nearly 8.8 million people would not have had a laugh at United's expense and their share price might not have taken a knock.
   Now, there are a couple of US ad people I like to follow from time to time. One is Mike Proulx in Boston from the agency Hill Holiday. He did an article recently in Management about some of the mess-ups certain brands made in social marketing and mentioned a list of common errors certain firms make.
Not listening to what people say about your brand. Big mistake! It seems that last year, hackers got into the's (AMZN) site, causing all books by GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) authors to disappear. So over a weekend thousands of consumers of Twitter, Facebook and other forums voiced their concern, suspecting that Amazon had done this deliberately. Two days later, when Amazon made an attempt to explain the glitch, people on Twitter already had created a hashtag further ridiculing the company's ineptitude.
   Leaving it to the Juniors. Simply because they are young, wear piercings and grew up on the internet, doesn't mean they have business savvy. Nestle's (NESN) Facebook page erupted in a flame war when Greenpeace staged a protest of their alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. Unfortunately the official posts made in response to comments were overly flippant and defensive, which only fuelled the firestorm. Nestle seemed to have been in hot water more than once. Remember that initial poor response from Nestle when it was discovered they are buying milk from Mrs Magabe. It took days before anybody said anything sensible, while the story just got bigger.

  •  Fast is better than Perfect. This is a super fast world. Sending your message first through layers of bureaucratic approvals only causes more damage to your brand's social reputation. I've seen companies fiddle with simple Xmas wishes so long, they didn't even make New Year! In that infamous Domino's YouTube video, in which employees did some highly unappetizing things to the chain's food, it erupted into a full-blown crisis in a couple of days. Although the CEO provided a video statement after many days of careful deliberation, many thought it took far too long to come out to have much effect on the damage done.
  • Faking it. Don't get your staff to send out messages praising your company – pretending to be customers. You get caught out. Earlier this year, it was widely speculated that Wal-Mart's (WMT) local Chicago PR agency was behind a fake community support group commenting on blogs in favour of the retail store coming into town.
  • Do not have an OFF switch. Social media is on-going all the time. You can't just do a campaign and then turn off, and think; "Oh Social Media. Yes we did one of those this year". Social media is in essence a customer relationship programme, and you can't just turn off your customer relationships and the dialogue you have with them.

Keep the dialogue going.