In a nutshell, 2017 has been a year of scandals, viral posts and revelations.
Several big brands, including United Airlines and Uber, dealt with major crises, sometimes compounding the problem with clumsy communications. Fake news continued to dog the major social media platforms, while brands braced themselves for the possibility of being tweeted at by President Trump. In short, PR pros and brand communicators had a busy year.
But it certainly wasn't all doom and gloom. Beyoncé broke the internet with a pregnancy announcement heard 'round the world, April the giraffe captivated the nation, Twitter doubled down on its character count and the #MeToo movement sparked an important national conversation (while compelling many organizations to update their own crisis plans).
Here, we’ve rounded up seven of the most memorable PR stories that defined 2017.
- The #MeToo movement's impact continues to be felt, with new allegations making headlines on an almost daily basis. Showing the sheer power of social media, one tweet by a celebrity started a movement that grew until it affected nearly every industry. While the spotlight was initially aimed at Harvey Weinstein and the entertainment industry, the movement spread to politics and B2C brands, and led to a long-overdue national conversation around sexual harassment.
- The United Airlines dragging incident. When video of a bloodied 69-year-old doctor being dragged off an overbooked flight went viral, United was faced with a huge crisis. While United CEO Oscar Munoz publicly apologized the next day, the crisis grew when he took a decidedly tougher stance in an internal letter to employees, essentially blaming the victim.
- Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad. It’s safe to say that years from now, this Pepsi ad will be studied by brand communicators as an example of what not to do. The tone-deaf spot tried to capitalize on political or social protests without actually defining the issue—taking a stand without actually taking one. While Kendall Jenner might be a fine choice for Pepsi in a different context, casting her as the hero of this ad felt insulting to anybody who had devoted time to a cause.
- Beyoncé’s record-breaking Instagram post. On a more positive note, Beyoncé’s simple, but beautiful, photo to announce her pregnancy with twins quickly claimed the record for most-liked photo on Instagram after hitting 6.4 million likes. The February 2017 post now has over 11 million likes, so it will most likely hold onto that title for a while.
- NFL player protests during the national anthem. Although Colin Kaepernick started the protests last year, it grew exponentially this season and continues to be a hot topic of conversation and debate, turning the national sport into a national political issue. The tension between the owners, fans and players was only inflamed when President Trump took a hard-line stand.
- Twitter’s move to 280 characters. The bold move redefined Twitter, which had been characterized by its 140-character limit since its inception. Although the platform is the president’s preferred mode of communication, usage had been declining. While it’s still unclear whether the expansion has bolstered Twitter’s popularity, it certainly got people talking and landed Twitter plenty of media coverage.
- Uber faces one crisis after another. The popular ride sharing service experienced a seriously tough year. In February, a video of Uber’s then-CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver went viral, and started a downward spiral for the company, including accusations of rampant sexism in the company and eventually leading to Kalanick’s resignation. What's more, the company revealed in November that it had suffered a major data breach, and paid off the hackers to keep it quiet.
Connect with Samantha: @samantha_c_wood