Social media lessons from DiGiorno’s hashtag fail

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DiGiorno may not be delivery, but its community manager certainly delivered a few lessons in social media PR this week.

In the wake of a video released by TMZ showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator, people took to Twitter to express empathy for Janay Palmer and tell their own abuse stories using the hashtags #WhyIStay and #WhyILeave.

The conversation on Twitter grew Monday night until #WhyIStay trended, at which point DiGiorno’s community manager made this ill-advised entry into the conversation:

The tweet was taken down immediately, but not before screenshots spread across social media platforms. The person behind DiGiorno’s Twitter account then spent the rest of the night apologizing, both en masse and individually:

This gaffe underlines two important lessons for successful social media PR: Research can make all the difference, and straightforward apologies go a long way.

DiGiorno’s social media person admitted to not researching the hashtag before posting, which seems strange for a brand that relies on the exploitation of Twitter’s trending topics to promote their products. The brand was even nominated for a Shorty Award for its tweets during NBC’s live broadcast of “The Sound of Music.”

The lesson here is simple, but that simplicity does not negate its importance: look before you tweet. Other brands have made this mistake, including Kenneth Cole, Celeb Boutique and Habitat for Humanity, and endured a social media hate storm. Brand promotion using tragedies and emotionally charged current events makes that brand look insensitive, whether the promoting was intentional or just an oversight.

The second lesson here serves to highlight the importance of an apology, especially one that is immediate, honest, and transparent.

It’s interesting to note that several people appreciated the apology (or apologies, as the social media manager spent the rest of the night responding to angry tweets) because it wasn’t a “backhanded PR non-apology.” Good social PR looks at the situation and the audiences involved, and then delivers a meaningful apology that takes responsibility for any errors in a timely fashion.

DiGiorno’s Twitter gaffe can also bring professionals to consider another lesson: It’s not necessary to hijack hashtags and trends in order to be successful.

Everyone remembers Oreo’s well-timed tweet during Super Bowl XLVII:

This was a great example of a timely tweet during a trend, and Oreo’s community manager didn’t use any hashtags to deliver its message. Instead, the brand built a community on social media prior to the event and then was listening before it made its move. Considering around 6,000 tweets go out every second on Twitter, it’s not surprising that PR and marketing professionals continually try to stand out against the noise and competition. However, there are better ways to stand out than hijacking every cultural trend that passes by.

Especially if that hijacking will only deliver you a headache.

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