More fast failure

I’m not a fan of the advice “fail fast.” Here’s an example of why.

Suprisingly – or not – it’s happened again. In a nutshell, a PR firm broke an unwritten rule and by writing about it. And got fired for it.

Here’s what’s going on:


Here’s what “fail fast” looks like

Earlier this year, Chrysler made a bold statement to the world, airing the Imported From Detroit commercial during Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. The ad created buzz in the ad world, political circles, and the entertainment industry, while helping drive a 191% increase in month-over-month sales of the Chrysler 200, the car featured in the ad. Unless you hate America, it's hard not to feel proud of the United States and one of its core but beaten down industries after watching the full two-minute spot.

A month later, this tweet publishes one morning from Chrysler's official Twitter account:

@ChryslerAutos errant tweet

Auto blog Jalopnik broke the story and here's what transpired in rapid succession:

The root cause here might have been technology failure, user error, lack of process (publishing) control, and/or temporary lapse of cultural connection. 

Within the 48 hours, an iconic brand gets a black eye, an agency loses a major account, and a person gets fired: nothing good for those directly involved. So where's all the praise for failing fast?

Crisis management – standard operating procedures

I flew on Southwest Airlines earlier this week, three days after the company faced – and averted – a major crisis. (This WSJ article contains an excellent synopsis of what transpired.) In contrast, the airline faced a crisis of a very different sort two months earlier, when a movie director with over a million Twitter followers complained about being poorly treated.

In the corporate communications function, crisis management comes with the territory. But with the rise of social media, the communications landscape has changed, introducing new players and parameters into situations. Social media ownership has been unevenly distributed in many companies, which has created havoc in situations where the first responders are often the least prepared. Advertising professionals accustomed to one-way communication. Digital born natives who lack experience. Legal departments not understanding the pace of information flows.

I’ve faced my own social media crisis from the client side – but it was eight years ago, when adoption was low. Today, many companies across many industries have faced social media crises. Take a look at this list and count the number of incidents each year. The good news? A generally accepted process of social media crisis management has emerged – industry standards in many ways. Southwest’s handling of its recent challenges has been commendable and you can see how they employ best practices to high impact.

Here’s an outline for a standard plan that could be deployed in today’s operating environment:


During a crisis

  • Acknowledge situation to create time and space (example: Ford)
  • Understand and respond (example: Southwest Airlines)
  • Syndicate and let others distribute the message (example: Domino’s Pizza)


  • Track new terms related to crisis
  • Thank your supporters; watch your detractors
  • Adjust policy, workflow, and tools as needed

Naturally, these elements go deeper and should be customized according to industry and situation.

UPDATE: Here’s a related checklist, work that my colleague Tom Cummings did prior to Dachis Group.