Taxi industry breaks rule # 1: Don't do dumb stuff

Mon, Nov 16 2015

There’s an old saying in the PR industry that when things go wrong the most useful all-purpose phrase is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” But there are some strategies which were never a good idea. And issue management rule # 1 is “Don’t do dumb stuff.”

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So why did the Victorian Taxi Association imagine it would be smart to start a Twitter hashtag #YourTaxis to get the public sharing positive experiences about taxis? Instead they were overwhelmed by angry stories about smelly cabs and incompetent drivers, plus many more serious allegations.

How was that a surprise? Had they never heard of McDonald’s disastrous hashtag #McDstories inviting people to share heart-warming experiences about eating fast food? Predictably it was hijacked by negative responses and the whole thing was shut down within two hours.

But, unlike McDonald’s, the Taxi Association seemed determined to press on in the face of the blindingly obvious. CEO David Samuel denied it was an epic fail and said the response online wasn’t anything they hadn't expected. "This is about starting a direct conversation with everyone who uses Victorian taxis and giving them an opportunity to tell us what they think. This is what we have achieved.”

No, Mr Samuel, it’s not a “conversation” when customers are hurling abuse at you. Why not admit a mistake and move on, like when you fired your social media agency, with the wonderful understatement that “the campaign concept and its delivery did not match the Association’s intention.”

It’s not as if this should have been a surprise. Had the taxi folks forgotten the New York Police Department social media campaign earlier this year under the hashtag #myNYPD inviting people to submit photographs of themselves interacting with the Big Apple’s finest. Needless to say the site attracted hundreds of pictures of ‘police brutality’ – like the one of officers struggling with Occupy protesters and the caption “NY police changing minds one baton at a time.” More than 70,000 people posted comments before it was cancelled. 

Sadly, there’s no shortage of misconceived or mistimed Twitter fails. Think no further than Qantas inviting passengers to share their dream inflight experience in the midst of an industrial dispute which grounded the fleet. Or Malaysian Airlines launching an invitation for people to share their “bucket list” of things to do before they die, just months after two of their aircraft had been lost, killing everyone aboard. In fact such social media disasters are now so well known there is even a special name for this type of screw-up – hashtags which turn into bashtags.

The taxi industry is certainly facing some major issues – not the least being competition from Uber. But every issue management strategy should first answer two questions: What exactly are we trying to achieve? What could go wrong? Maybe then you can avoid doing dumb stuff.

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Author: Tony Jaques PhD FPRIA, Director, Issue Outcomes P/L

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