Why A Brand’s Social Media “Disaster” Can Often Be A PR Boon!

Why A Brand’s Social Media “Disaster” Can Often Be A PR Boon!

In this guest post, Gerry McCusker (pictured below), author of PR Disasters and founder/principal advisor at Engage ORM, says brand disasters “manufactured” for social media can play everybody as a sucker…

I’ll frame this piece by paraphrasing the old adage; “You can’t give offence but you can certainly take it.”

After retailer Target has decided to withdraw a line of little girl’s t-shirts after some social media sniping from people with opinions, we have to assess the new rules of reputation management.


Lamentably, on social media, anyone can stoke up a PR disaster by claiming they were insulted/offended by a brand or company. What I call “tough-to-love” brands are especially vulnerable to minor or subjective attacks (often manifested as ‘trivial disputes), which media news are all-too-willing to turn into eyeball-chasing, outrage-provoking audience headlines.

Here’s how Trivial Dispute gets played online…Are you ready?

Customers make online statements about brand experiences, products or service. Your tough-to-love brand is expected to respond in real time. So you try a dry, operations-oriented response. BUT…”Don’t treat me like a number,” they wail.

So, be warned, you’ll be penalised for cut ‘n’ paste replies!

You’re tempted to be more empathetic or personal. You try that. BUT Whap-WHAAAThe customer was a psychic mind-reader! They sussed your attempt to empathise and relate to them, as a stick-on insult.

You try to clarify. You try to justify. You to to pacify. But you’re a tough-to-love company so no-one cares. Oops! They now chide you online and whip up a ‘social storm’ of faux-indignation. Whap-WHAAAR! 

Then a journalist thinks that subjective social slating is a real news story. Whap-Whap-WHAA! They interview ‘the insulteds’ , giving them free PR and a fat SEO boost: And your brand gets slammed again. Ouch! 

Now more people see – and wanna play – ‘Trivial Dispute’ online. Got the hang of it yet?

The key is understanding that the online reputation game can be as rigged as a pellet-gun stall at a bent fairground. But if it’s a set-up, “who wins?” you ask.


  • The self-interests of the complainant scores the attention it seeks
  • Online lurkers, neurotics and worriers savour the savaging of the tough-to-love brand 
  • The churnalist gets the headline that draws ‘eyeballs’ (The eyeball-quotient helps justify advertising and keeps them in employment).                                      
  • Social networks stream the fake f racas into their feeds (which keeps content fresh)        
  • And the tough-to-love brand …?

Well, they get to play the game over and over. Until they figure out a better engagement model where they can wrest better control of the SEO , narrative and content findability agenda.

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