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The Risk of Putting Social Media on Auto-Pilot

By Martin Lande, Social Media Strategist and Sports Fan

Social networking sites are powerful and enticing, enabling a tweet or post to instantly reach vast numbers of people anywhere in the world with a mere mouse click. For institutions, companies, organizations, and people in search of a popularity boost, it sounds very appealing. And virtually cost-free! There are even tools that allow content, replies and posts to be published automatically.

But, as the saying goes, not all that glitters is gold. Putting a social networking account on “auto pilot” can help bolster our online presence but also get us in big trouble.

The most recent example happened on June 18, when Mexico’s national soccer team was playing Chile. What better for a soccer-obsessed country like Mexico than to combine social media and the national pastime during the Copa America tournament? A sure-fire success, many thought.

With this in mind, the Mexican squad’s official Twitter account launched a simple, mass campaign to interact with fans, making use of an automated tool. Whenever fans responded to a specific tweet, they received an automated reply containing a short message and an image (national team photograph) of the Mexican players holding up a banner with the word “¡Gracias!” and the name of the fan’s Twitter account.

The idea was terrific in theory: run a social networking campaign on a day with loads of online activity, gain presence and interact with fans in a personalized way, making each of them feel “special.”

But that feel-good spirit soon evaporated once trolls saw an opportunity for some online ridicule. Fictitious Twitter accounts quickly sprouted up, resulting in numerous banners with strange, ridiculous and even crude usernames.

The communications staff was forced to bring the failed campaign to a halt in less than an hour, although fortunately for them it had already been completely overshadowed at that point by Chile’s historic drubbing of Mexico.

Mistakes can happen to anyone, some might say. Yes and no. They can happen to anyone who has not been properly advised on managing social networking sites and effectively responding to a crisis situation.

An unfiltered automation tool was probably chosen because, due to the large number of images, it would have been impossible to generate them one at a time. But in any case, this risk should have been foreseen and assessed prior to the launch. Organizers, moreover, should have tracked the campaign’s execution and come up with a contingency plan.

Foresight, monitoring, crisis management. Basic elements of soccer, companies, and institutions that want to achieve social media success while avoiding embarrassing gaffes.

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