The Good, Bad and Ugly of Montana’s Social Snafu

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Montana’s Social Snafu


That was my first thought as the tweets began to roll-in about the Montana Office of Tourism Facebook post.

How did this happen? Have we not seen this before? Who made the mistake?

As the comments began to multiply, I found myself at odds when considering this article. Part of me wanted to go beyond the mindless dreck that most ‘writers’ were posting about the mishap and actually analyze the situation.

But another part of me did not want to bring it back up. Partially to avoid any conflicts of interest as a proud member of MercuryCSC‘s Advisory Board and partially because I just did not want to talk about another social blunder.

In the end, I decided this was a story that our readers should know about, understand and learn from.

However, do not assume this is a puff piece in defense of MercuryCSC.

It’s not.

As I have stated before, my loyalty is to you, the reader.

You expect an honest opinion, Advisory Board or not.

The Ugly Side of Social

Social media is a wonderful outlet for organizations, especially tourism destinations, to connect with the people who actually buy their products, fly on their planes or visit their destination.

The more people talking about us, the better we feel about ourselves.

We crave the viral video. Pray for a retweet from @petersgreenberg.

But there is an ugly side.

Ha Ha! You stink at social media.A persistent need for an online minority to find and laugh at these social media mishaps. It is a vicious cycle, fed by the very popularity we are striving for.

The irony is that if the Montana page were less popular, this post might have gone unnoticed.

This is the reality you accept when you present your brand to the social masses. If you make a mistake, you will be made fun of…or worse.

Beyond all of the other changes and challenges brought upon by the social revolution, this is perhaps the most difficult for organizations to understand.

Here is how the average netizen looks at this type of story:

“Heh, that is pretty funny. I would not have posted it, back to cat videos.”

Here is how your organization would likely look at this type of story:

“Dear God, this is the end. No one will ever come to our destination again, our brand is ruined!*”

(*Dramatic recreation)

This is the new social cycle.

One where you are cheered, jeered, laughed at and redeemed all within a 48-hour period.

Social success does not equal marketing immortality and social failure is not immortal.

Your brand is now part of the social family, with all the love and dysfunction of your actual family.

Knees and Jerks

Unfortunately for the agency or employee responsible for making a mistake, a knee-jerk reaction is required. Typically, that means relieving social responsibility from the publishing party.

Likely without analysis and understanding of what really happened.

A caveat, if a social mistake is really social malice, that is, done intentionally or with insult, then yes, the employee or agency should be fired.

While I am personally against assigning your social outreach to an external organization, it is a fallacy to assume that simply managing your Facebook account in-house would have prevented this type of mishap.

This specific instance, perhaps, but it is certainly not a shield for social screw-ups.

But action must be taken due to the seemingly unstoppable spread of the story.

Here again, we find a characteristic of social media and the new reality of online journalism that we do not truly understand. For the most part, these stories are carried by sites more interested in traffic than journalistic integrity.

They are SEO bombers, searching for the popular, hacking together a story and sucking in mindless traffic.

Gawker, Huffington Post, Business Insider, hell even your local paper, care about selling ads, not journalism.

And yet our reaction to the incident grows with each new post.

It’s now on CNET!

Really? CNET? How is this news for CNET?

Shit, the half-ass ‘reporter’ for could barely get the name of the company right. Never mind the fact that she copied and pasted the company name from another story into her own.


These sites are in an arms race for stupidity.

Link bait or true journalism, are people seeing and reacting to the story? Yes.

But the question is, how damaging is it?

Social Damage

We just don’t know. Or more accurately, we don’t have the research to answer that question.

We can make some observations from other infamous digital missteps. Sweden, North Dakota, British Airways, United, etc., etc.

Sweden has added more Twitter followers since the tweet.

North Dakota continues to attract visitors.

BA, as well as United, continue to fly passengers.

Our fear seems to imagine a greater effect than what actually occurs.

Frankly, research in this area is woefully lacking, considering the amount of articles on social media fails. Which is why it feels like an ideal subject for our next Mark Research Report.

This is the true question. Do these fails actually impact the consumer perception of the brand, and if so, how great is the impact?

When something like this occurs, the people who run DMOs want to know how many visitors will not travel to their destination because of an offending post.

At this point, my hypothesis would be very few.

Learning from Mistakes

The misguided Facebook post was a mistake by MercuryCSC. One that I am sure they will learn from and one that you should learn from. But should the competency of the agency or the Montana Office of Tourism be seriously questioned? Considering the results of their partnership so far, that would be an even larger mistake.

The only reliable way to prevent a social mistake is to not be social.

Assuming you do want to continue your social outreach, there are some precautions you should take, regardless if you are an agency or employee.

  1. Manage social media accounts through a dedicated dashboard that does not share access to personal accounts. (Credit to @robertpatterson)
  2. Do not allow access via a mobile device, except in special situations (event, off-site, etc.).
  3. Have a social media crisis plan ready. The Montana Office of Tourism and MercuryCSC had a framework in place and used it to guide them through this incident.
  4. Be ready to laugh with the internet. See Red Cross.
  5. Don’t overreact. Absorb the situation and respond with thought, not immediacy.

Again, could a single, rogue and pissed-off employee ruin even the best social media policy and procedure? Of course.

But you should still be prepared.

In the end, your organization, destination or agency can survive a social screw-up if you have built an honest reputation with your community.

I found two, telling examples of this community for Montana.

The Good, Bad and Mostly Ugly of Montana’s Social Snafu

The Good, Bad and Mostly Ugly of Montana’s Social Snafu

A mistake was made, people laughed and moved on.

This is the new social community your brand is a part of. Embrace it, laugh with it, talk to it…be social.

Good, bad or ugly.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.