It’s been a rough year for giraffes (see: Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark).

By now, many of you have seen the tweet sent by the US airline Delta (if not, it’s here) meant in good sporting spirit to congratulate the US on its World Cup match win against Ghana. One photo depicts the Statue of Liberty to represent the United States and a giraffe to represent Ghana. Ghana has no wild giraffes.

Admittedly, a mistake made in the excitement of the win. The problem, the brand’s value is wrapped up in consumer trust that the airline has a fairly good understanding of geography.

Of course, Twitterverse had a field day with the tweet before and after it was quickly deleted. Here are some gems below:

@rodger_sherman You can book flights to Accra, the capital of Ghana, on ‪@delta’s website. Do not take those flights. They will end up in the Serengeti.

@rolling my last ‪@Delta flight ‪


Here are a few tips to prevent your brand (or country) from becoming a victim of a cultural gaffe and what to do if it does happen:

Have a strategy. And then have a plan. Was it part of Delta’s overall social media strategy for 2014 to cover the World Cup? If so, they also had a plan and a content schedule. The mistake above suggests otherwise. Make sure you have your strategy and quarterly goals mapped out each year and ensure your content is aligned.

Prepare your evergreen content in advance for events. Evergreen content can be a lifesaver in the rush of activity around an event, especially if tweeting live or reacting to fast-moving events. Evergreen content is prepared content that can be researched and vetted. Prior to an event, develop a list of tweets to either schedule or live tweet. This will help prevent last-minute scrabbling to write content in a real-time environment where mistakes are more likely to happen.

If you are a global brand, get to know the culture of each of your markets. This is important and often overlooked. In 2000, I worked with FIFA on the development of their country websites. We conducted focus groups with those in country on cultural symbols, colors and interpretations. We did our research to ensure that we accurately reflected national assumptions and pride and we tested the results before we launched the sites. This holds true for social as well.

Keep a close eye on your social media. Watch the tweets, posts and interactions closely on a daily and weekly basis. Assess how your staff is engaging with consumers or potential consumers and course correct as you go. Don’t wait for a major gaffe.

It’s too late to take it back so run with it. Part of me believes that if this with Richard Branson’s airline, he would have turned it into a marketing success because he could. His brand attributes reflect his innovative, revolutionary way of using marketing. Delta could have done more with it beyond the apology. Even one Twitter user suggested some travel packages to “get to know Ghana” or sponsoring giraffe habitats.

To delete or not to delete, that is the question. Immediately deleting has always struck me as a public panic attack and in some cases, a dictatorial act. If you put it out there, own up to it. Everyone saw it. Issue an apology and try to turn the episode around to improve your image among consumers of your brand and to gain new converts. But keep your brand values and attributes in mind and reflect them in your response.

And here’s hoping the next six months of 2014 are much better for giraffes.

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