Sucked Into Rush Limbaugh Mess

What if your brand was sucked into a controversy it had nothing to do with? Here's how it happens.

When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, all public relations hell broke loose. An apology for his "insulting word choices" only seemed to fan more criticism.

This isn't a story that will stop dogging Limbaugh in the near future. But he's not the only one dealing with the fallout. Angry consumers are going after brands on Twitter and other social networks demanding they stop advertising on Limbaugh's show. Here's the irony: A number of those companies taking heat are not even advertisers.

It's yet another example of how brands unwittingly find themselves at the center of a social media disaster.

As often happens when something goes socially viral, people pass on information without checking its veracity. For example, OnStar's Facebook page quickly became a victim with one post after another. Some thanked the company "for supporting honesty in America by sponsoring [Limbaugh]," as one poster wrote. Others, took OnStar to task for having "taken the wrong path" through its sponsorship of a man who "in a single breath sent women's rights back a century." The truth? OnStar was once a sponsor of Limbaugh's show, but not since 2003.

The online relationship company eHarmony was another that landed on a number of lists of purported Limbaugh advertisers. Here is the statement that the company released:

It has recently come to our attention that there has been inaccurate information disseminated about eHarmony advertising on the Rush Limbaugh Show. eHarmony does not buy advertising on his show nor are we affiliated with him. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. We value your feedback.

Hotwire stopped advertising there five years ago. AutoZone insisted, "We do not purchase advertising on Rush Limbaugh websites, nor do we sponsor the Rush Limbaugh radio show," and that if any AutoZone ad appeared, it was in error.

Not all companies that landed on the lists were there mistakenly. LegalZoom announced that it had pulled ads from Limbaugh's show as a result of reactions it saw from both customers and its own employees. Online backup company Carbonite pulled its advertising, as did Citrix Systems.

But the event underscores how important it is for a company to monitor social networks constantly and its reputation. Even if you have nothing to do with a controversial situation, you could be tied in because someone mistakenly thinks you were involved. (Or, for the insufficiently paranoid, an unscrupulous competitor could spread such a rumor to make trouble for you.)

Only by monitoring mentions on social networks and search engines will you know when your brand is being pulled into a sinkhole.

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