Advice

NFL Fumbles, Uber Hikes and Other Business Fails

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It never fails. Every year there are a handful of companies and organizations that make the news for bonehead moves. Whether it’s their C-suite or a team member on the front line (or on social media), companies experience public relations crises throughout the year. 

I recently asked my followers what they thought last year’s biggest bonehead moves were and this is what they shared:

U2's forced download.

Most people would be excited about getting something free, but that wasn’t the case with U2's latest release. The band and Apple signed a $100 million promotional deal that would allow all iTunes subscribers (some 500 million people) to get for free the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence. The album ended up being automatically downloaded to tons of iPhones, iPads and iPods and public outcry was swift and fierce amid those who felt this happened without their consent.

Moral: Whether you run Facebook, Apple, Google, U2 or a business on Main Street with an app, always ask for permission before sharing in this manner.

Related: 5 PR Takeaways From Watching the NFL Fumble the Ray Rice Scandal

The NFL's muted response.

When the news broke about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's February altercation with his girlfriend Janay Palmer in a hotel, NFL fans and non-fans alike were outraged.  

In September when video surfaced showing Rice punching  Palmer in the face, the members of the public found the NFL and Baltimore Ravens remiss in their initial response to violence: a relatively light punishment, a two-game suspension. Members of the public let their voices be heard.

In a CBS News interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the public outrage, saying that before handing out the two-game suspension, he had met with Rice and girlfriend Janay Palmer a month before the decision and heard what the couple was doing to address their issues. "What I'm learning about this whole issue of domestic violence is that it's very complicated, very difficult on families," he said.

Moral: Always be completely transparent when a crisis hits. Whether it’s the good, the bad or even the ugly, the response shoud be like pulling off a Band-Aid. Do it fast.

Related: Uber and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month

Uber price hikes.

I have been a huge fan of Uber ever since company launched. But some actions by startups make me scratch my head. 

The biggest Uber story that made headlines last year is the price hike that occurred in Sydney during a December hostage crisis. It’s fairly easy to anticipate the public’s response when hundreds of people trying to flee a scene are suddenly finding themselves charged new, high prices during a crisis. 

In a public apology on Uber’s website, general manager of Uber Australia David Rohrsheim wrote, "Our priority was to help get as many people out of the [central business district] safely in the midst of a fast-moving event. The decisions we made were based only on helping to achieve this but we communicated this poorly, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about our motivations.” 

Added Rohrsheim: “Surge pricing is algorithmic and kicks in automatically when demand for rides outstrips the supply of cars that are on the road. This encourages more drivers to the area where people are requesting rides.”  

Moral: It’s critical for companies to be sensitive to the public during crises. Provide aid and sympathy, but never make the response be about the company or try to profit from the situation.

A company's leaders should reflect the service or business they sell. The actions of Uber's leaders should follow evoke the same level of professional service and discretion that their drivers are supposed to have. Uber needs to make sure it doesn’t become a company that I’m ashamed to tell others I use. 

US Airways' scandalous tweet.

 Automated replies should be an automatic no-no. US Airways learned the hard way when a not-safe-for work image was posted with a tweet, and the airline account auto-responded, accidently sharing the image to its more than 556,000 Twitter followers.

Some automated or programmed messages are OK like the ones that tell me that you received my message. But if content is king, activation is queen and context is the kingdom. Make sure your messages aren’t taken out of context.

The cool thing about social media is that it’s social and you have to remember that. Otherwise you’re throwing it out there with disregard to the content that's being used and it becomes advertising. 

Moral: Always check before you tweet -- and never auto-respond. 

Urban Outfitters' Kent State sweatshirt  

When a one-of-a-kind Kent State sweatshirt debuted on Urban Outfitters’ site for $129, it was an eerie reminder of the on-campus shooting in 1970, thanks to the red splatter that colored the sweatshirt.

People were outraged and Kent State issued a scathing statement. Urban Outfitters pulled the sweatshirt and issued an apology. 

Moral: Think through any repercussions that a company's actions may have. Even if a gesture is meant to be "off the cuff," weigh the pros and cons.

These PR nightmares are reminders of why every organization, big or small, needs to have a crisis-management plan in place. As you move into 2015, make it a resolution to set a plan.

Related: Is Your Business Prepared to Handle an Unexpected Emergency?