A Brief History of Social Media PR Nightmares

    The role of a traditional PR professional might look different from what it once was, but the activity is alive and well with a seemingly unending number of PR nightmares taking the stage in the modern era. The scene of the crime is no longer the boardroom or a press conference, but they are playing out in real-time on social media. If you’d like to relive these cringing moments or simply shed a light on what hasn’t worked to inform your own strategy, let’s review a brief history of social media PR nightmares.

    The behavior and subsequent firing of Israel Folau

    Israel Folau dominated the headlines and social media debate when he began to post homophobic content to his Instagram page, receiving a warning from Rugby Australia, which he disregarded when he posted again for a second time. This instance, and the pressure from Rugby Australia’s sponsor, Qantas, led to the termination of Folau’s contract. According to employment lawyers, McDonald Murholme, Rugby Australia acting in the interest of a sponsor over an employee could make them liable, no matter how much they wanted to extinguish this PR nightmare in a timely manner.

    Folau and his lawyers agreed and filed motions to sue Rugby Australia for what they believed was an unlawful termination. In an even more bizarre turn of events, Folau set up a Go Fund Me page, to pay for the legal fees ahead of him, and raised half a million before Go Fund Me took down the page. Folau eventually reached a settlement with Rugby Australia, and so based on that outcome it would be fair to say that Qantas indicated that Falou had to go, as Alan McDonald reported. A long and expensive nightmare.

    Woolworths, ABC, Bunnings and other retail giants underpay thousands of employees

    Underpaying employees against the legal award wage is a news story no business wishes to be the center of, but that’s where Woolworths, ABC, Bunnings, Commonwealth, Super Retail Group, Qantas and Michael Hill Jeweller found themselves. The admission was followed by swift action from these businesses, with the public demanding a strategy for identifying how much had been underpaid, the timeframe and how they were to track down these entitled past-employees. This PR nightmare has been dragged out into an arduous battle with some businesses claiming to be unaware of wage award changes, and not altogether admitting fault. Employment lawyers have suggested there needs to be a system where employees can definitively identify and prove that they have been underpaid, as the alternative of going to court is too costly and time-intensive for these employees. Especially in the instances where public outcry isn’t present to pressure businesses.

    Ultimately, some sort of admission has unfolded with these businesses telling the public when they are going to pay back the withheld funds and by when. It’s hard to say whether this has been a product of extensive physical and virtual protests happening on social media, but it will be in the best interests of the businesses to wrap this up and locate each employee that is owed money.

    The infamous Pepsi ad and a total lack of self-awareness

    When Kendall Jenner, one of the Kardashian clan, graced our televisions in the highly produced Pepsi ad, they didn’t see the kind of reaction they were hoping for on social media. Instead, there was an almost immediate uproar, with the starlet and Pepsi PR team coming forward to apologize for the ad. So, what was wrong with the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad and what can we learn from this instance? 

    The ad has an air of familiarity from the moment you see it, with images of protesters moving through New York fighting for peace, with the ad ending with Kendall handing the good looking police officer a Pepsi. The ad was drawing parallels from the iconic photos and footage of protesters handing riot-clad police officers flowers during their anti-Vietnam peaceful protest which turned very violent. This was not a pretty time in history, and so it was a strange choice for Pepsi to invoke that imagery. What’s more, is that many have said that the ad trivializes the Black Lives Matter movement, which was in its height at the release of the ad. Their selection of actors, protest signs and New York imagery indicates that Pepsi was trying to localize their ad to a current issue – which was entirely inappropriate.

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    Use this brief history of social media PR nightmares as a playbook of what not to do. We can learn from these cases and put our employees before anything else, and also leave alone controversial themes if you are not going to give these issues the respect they deserve.

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