For many corporations, using social media is a way to attract and engage with customers that falls under the umbrella of public relations, the building and managing of reputations through the activity of disseminating information between the public and an organization. Social media “provides new opportunities and threats for today’s organization” (Valacich & Schneider, 2014). As the workplace and technology both evolve, there are changes as to how people interact and enable social media. In an age where all kinds of information is at users’ fingertips and personal expression gets more frequent and frank, individuals make their information privy to anyone who can see it online.

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Social media has the ability to enhance communication through a variety of tools including but not limited to blogs, microblogging tools, instant messaging and virtual worlds (Valachich & Schneider, 2014). Social software, otherwise known as Web 2.0 applications or social applications, are used by public relations executives and corporations as a whole. Using a Web 2.0 strategy for an enterprise is dependent on many factors such as culture, hierarchies, the generation/age gap, security, technology integration, etc. Like Valacich & Schneider (2014) state, there are opportunities and threats that face an organization and it would behoove any corporation to be aware and anticipate pitfalls, like negative reviews on a product from competitors, the sharing of too much personal information, the spread of negative publicity, etc.

Many companies are no stranger to the inevitable blunders and mess-ups that come with using social media as a public relations tool. For example, global food company Nestle was protested by environmental protection corporation Greenpeace for buying palm oil for firms that were destroying the rainforest; this resulting in a YouTube video of an orangutan finger in a KitKat. Nestle asked YouTube to take the video down in move that many people saw as censorship and in return it deleted the complaints and actually ended up swapping insults with users on Facebook—a total public relations nightmare. As a result, Nestle has become dedicated to eliminating deforestation practices from its supply chain.

Nestle is not the only company that has faced backlash for its business practices. However, the way in which Nestle dealt with the backlash by going back and forth with consumers on Facebook in a battle of insults was obviously inappropriate and a reaction that is luckily few and far between. It is also necessary to understand the public relations blunders that happen by way of mishaps, misconceptions or accidents. Another example is photography and card printing company Shutterfly and in 2014 the company sent out a mass email to its customers congratulating new mothers on the birth of their children. It unfortunately turned out that for women who has miscarried, lost a child or were infertile, the email rubbed some the wrong way, resulting in a barrage of tweets of women expressing their sorrow and anger caused by bereavement. Shutterfly, in this case, just made a terrible mistake; as privy as consumers make their information and personal lives, there was no way for Shutterfly to know the private business, especially such tragic business, of each consumer that had suffered a loss. What was a joke to some was a cruel reminder of personal loss and tragedy for others; Shutterfly made a serious public relations blunder for which it paid, no matter how innocent the intention.

In building and managing a reputation for a company, particularly for Nestle and Shutterfly, these are lessons learned. It is important to have a crisis team, a contingency plan and a plan for the worst socal media nightmare that it could face.