Let me offer some advice to businesses both large and small: Don't ever try to be funny, cute, hip or cool on social media--it will invariably end in disaster. The latest company to learn this the hard way is Delta Airlines--which had an incredibly embarrassing incident on Twitter last night. The airline decided to jump on the World Cup bandwagon posting a congratulatory tweet to the US Men's National Team featuring the final score of their win over Ghana last night:
The only problem is, there are no giraffes in Ghana. Ghana is along the Atlantic Coast of Africa, quite far from the Serengeti Plain where you actually would find giraffes.
Needless to say, Twitter exploded with mocking replies and retweets of the snafu--featuring snarky comments about the San Antonio Spurs and polar bears and how Delta is going to put the Eiffel Tower behind Portugal's score when they play the US on Sunday.
The greatest danger in social media is that it needs to be immediate in order to be relevant. But immediacy doesn't have the built-in safeguards that other forms of advertising provides companies. Every TV and radio ad you see and hear went through layers of marketing expertise and corporate oversight before it got on the air. But I can guarantee that tweet never made it to Delta's Chief Marketing Officer--until it showed up in his or her Twitter feed--which is too late. (Too add injury to insult, the next tweet apologized for the "precious Tweet" posted before--as someone failed to check spelling before hitting "post")
Don't expect the hubbub over this tweet to just fade away. Because Ghana is a predominantly black country, you can rest assured that Toure and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Jon Stewart on the Daily Show will rake Delta over the coals for posting such a "racist and offensive tweet"--and call out the airline as another "giant corporation that thinks anyone who is not white lives in mud huts and wears grass skirts."
But what those liberals are forgetting is that social media is the realm of the young people who just came out of the indoctrination programs (i.e. public schools and universities) that they support. Social Media Directors for many companies are surprisingly young--often recent graduates with degrees in the "burgeoning field"--armed with knowledge of the "science" of getting "likes", "rewteets" and the all important "followers". That young person who posted the "giraffe gaffe" likely could have told you plenty about the native Ghanans' centuries' long struggle to overcome imperial European (read as: white) control and how Ghana and the entire African continent will bear the worst effects of Global Climate Change. But ask that same "educated" person to find Ghana on a map of Africa? Well that wasn't "important enough to be taught".
So business owners and corporate executives, lose the desire to be one of the "cool kids" and "rule Twitter". Stick with the tried and true, "boring messages" of how your product is going to improve my life--at a cost lower than the competition's.