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03.24.11 -
Madison Avenue has embraced social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as effective new ways to reach consumers, but a couple of recent incidents — involving inappropriate posts from representatives of Aflac and Chrysler — show the risks inherent in these informal channels of mass communication. As The New York Times reports, the first incident began earlier this month, when an employee of an agency handling Chrysler’s Twitter account posted the comment, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to [expletive deleted] drive.”

The Aflac incident began a few days later, on Saturday, when Gilbert Gottfried — the comedian who is the voice of the duck in Aflac commercials — started posting jokes to his personal Twitter feed about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. As the Times reports, Japan accounts for 75 percent of Aflac’s revenue. Gottfried and the Chrysler representative were both dismissed.

For good or bad, social media can have an amplified effect. On Twitter, “you put something out and it can be re-tweeted thousands of times,” said Ian Schafer, chief executive at the Deep Focus agency in New York.

In an era when many users vie to be first with what they consider clever comments on news stories and anybody can communicate to an audience, brands need to establish social-media policies, advises Daniel Khabie, chief executive at Digitaria in San Diego. Otherwise, he says, “we’re giving people loaded guns to do incredible harm.” — Greg Beaubien

Posted on PRSA website, ©2010-11 The Public Relations Society of America

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