As many of us are now aware, the Victorian Taxi Association launched to promote feel good stories from staff & passengers, along with a cache of information about the Victorian taxi industry. To incentivise people to share positive taxi stories, they created the hashtag, #YourTaxis, and connected it with a competition.

The campaign was launched in an effort to start fighting off tech disruptor Uber.

How do you think it went for them? <Insert head in hands moment here>

#YourTaxis trended on Twitter, but for all the wrong reasons (or least what they had hoped for). They received a storm of criticism and bad news stories from people not only in Victoria, but nationwide. It’s a special type of screw up when you not only fail to resonate in the space you were trying to, but manage to also drag the entire industry down with you, as we witnessed in this campaign quite quickly and viscously. People started sharing their experiences ranging from refusals to accept short fares, hate speech from drivers, fare disputes & aggression, a lack of local area/directions knowledge, dirty taxis, sexual advances, and many other horror stories.

Unfortunately, this was predictable. Very predictable, and the mind boggles at how this was ever approved for release. Social Media is a unique beast, and must be treated with care, and understanding if you are to benefit from it. Don’t expect to offer give aways on social media and be rewarded if your product or service isn’t up to scratch. Social Media has a knack of putting a spotlight on existing brand perception. People will only say nice things about you if your brand resonates with them, and is adored. If not, expect to go down in flames. Don’t make the cardinal sin of assuming people will be nice if you’re not bullet proof. Pick your battles very wisely. In this instance, the #YourTaxis campaign chose to pick a fight with Uber, a brand with exceptional loyalty, and immense digital credibility and adoration. They didn’t think for a second who they were up against, a company with the majority of its users being heavy technology adopters, that love industry disruption, and all things new. This was destined to bomb the day it was conceived and should never have seen the light of day, unless there was a much more sensible strategy to invite a beating, and then have a thought out, planned response – which is what would have been the primary goal of the campaign – to tackle sentiment and rebuild the friendship. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, and this tanked in a big way.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for brands wanting to promote a message, build relationships and engage with existing and prospective customers. BUT… you must approach any social media strategy with great care. A give away, or hashtag won’t fundamentally change how people feel about your brand, instead you must be honest with yourself and work understand exactly what the perception of your brand is before jumping into the deep blue sea of social media.

Bribery doesn’t work. If customers have a good relationship with you, and they’re technology boffins, they’ll talk about you. It’s how social media works, we love to chat, about everything we love…and loathe.

An ill-conceived social strategy and content planning is highly likely to inflict an enormous amount of damage to your brand. Instead of focusing attention where it was wanted as in this particular case, it can divert attention and hijack the planned message, along with resources, money and time, not to mention cost not only in the loss of the original message (and subsequent campaign failure) but the clean up.

This campaign ultimately confirmed sentiment in the market about the Victorian Taxi Association – that they’re outdated, they don’t know how to communicate with a large percentage of their customers, and they don’t understand social, therefore they don’t deserve to retain customers, and should continue to lose them to Uber.

It took a full 3 days for the Victorian Taxi Association to pull the plug on the campaign. Whilst fessing up that the campaign was a stinker from the start, they withdrew in a fairly bland style, and committed another failure, proving they don’t know how to handle a social media disaster.

They played it cool to begin with, claiming the backlash was expected, and part of their plan all along, providing an opportunity to connect and engage with consumers and respond to public opinion about the product offered. Yet, they put up the white flag after just three days.

Who smells a rat? I do.

If there was a grand plan, and they knew a flogging was coming, we must assume they had a strategy in place with timelines for when each campaign stage would be rolled out, and how the campaign would evolve, eventually beginning to turn the tide. That never happened. They didn’t get past the initial public beating and pretending it’s ok for a few days whilst clearly scrambling to work out what next. It was abundantly clear they weren’t expecting the negative sentiment, and they weren’t prepared for it. To add insult to injury they then dealt with the backlash in spectacularly poor style.  Instead of just being honest, and putting a social friendly statement out there about the failed campaign, the epiphany resulting from it, and their plan to go back to the drawing board and rework their product to make it better, they tried to cover it up and trick us, hoping it would blow over and we’d all start playing nice again.

It’s pretty clear there was no strategy in place for handling negative feedback. This simply hadn’t been thought through. In fact, it’s clear to see the entire campaign wasn’t thought out very well, and should never have been approved for use.

Failures happen. It’s a fact of life, and we cant avoid them. But if you fail on social, don’t dig yourself in deeper by pretending you meant to all along. Be honest, and be fast about it.

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