Mitt Romney and the Dangers of Automated Messaging

We can understand why the Romney/Ryan campaign might forget to cancel the obviously automated publication of its official victory website after Tuesday’s election. In this case, the team’s oversight inspired little more than snickering and/or sadness among observers. But it also serves as a useful example of the headaches that automated content, messages and responses can create for PR teams.

Automation can be a great tool, especially in the world of social media. But real-world circumstances change quickly, and a failure to re-align one’s messages in the moment can amount to a big PR fail. Let’s review some recent examples:

  • Progressive Insurance responded to a massive PR headache (taking a deceased client’s estate to court to contest benefits) by…sending out a series of automated responses on Twitter. There’s no better way to confirm your status as a heartless corporation than by responding to tragedy with robotic corporate messages. You can type “our heart goes out to…” all you want, but members of the public are surprisingly adept at calling out this sort of thing.

  • The NRA’s “good morning, shooters” tweet, posted the morning after the Aurora massacre. This one isn’t as big a blunder, but it’s worth mentioning. A true PR expert would have cancelled the message immediately on learning of the shooting.
  • A Women’s Health Facebook post referencing the (cancelled) New York Marathon. Again, not a terribly offensive mistake, but the magazine is extremely popular, and an updated message sprinkled with a little dose of humor would have been far more effective.
  • In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Groupon continued to advertise deals in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island despite the fact that the given businesses had been knocked out of commission for some time by flooding and power outages. While a Groupon rep confirmed the company’s plans to postpone offers at affected clients, they really should have gotten out in front of that one. (For what it’s worth, rival LivingSocial made the same mistake.)
  • Earlier this year AT&T hired a social media agency to promote its NCAA “Ticket Chasers” contest–and ended up spamming a lot of irritated tweeters who didn’t even follow the company’s account. Bad move.

We still feel like automation can be a very valuable tool–we can’t expect everyone to create content in real-time, because that’s just not the way the business works. Yet some argue that social media automation is a bad idea in general.

What do we think? How can we avoid making big mistakes via automation?