If you visit the website of Toronto Maple Leafs, you’ll be greeted by a mosaic of tweets and Instagram photos. Using the hashtag #SEAofBLUE, the team encouraged fans to show their passion on social media to be rotated on a splash page. This sort of thing is pretty common in sports today, but the Maple Leafs added a pretty nice visual dynamic to it.

Participation, as you might imagine, was abundant; there are no shortage of hockey fans in Toronto. Furthermore, there is no shortage of critics, particularly in the blogosphere. When teams embark on social media campaigns, blogs of this nature typically chime in with snarky, deprecating comments. There’s no expectation of the comments being picked up; they serve as jokes that readers laugh at and teams ignore.

At some point late Tuesday night, Pension Plan Puppets, a pretty influential and highly critical Leafs blog that I frequent, caught wind of a pretty odd wrinkle to #SEAofBLUE – messages were going up on the site unfiltered. So Pension Plan Puppets took to Twitter, encouraging readers to send in their disdain for the team and screenshot their work when it appeared on the site.

The Leafs’ digital team woke up to quite the surprise and moved quickly to apologize and rectify this. The site’s clean now, but the damage has already been done.

This unfortunate incident serves as a reminder of key areas of communication:

  • Know your audience: the Maple Leafs are well aware of the sizable number of detractors around the team. They should have anticipated this and taken measures to filter responses ensuring that negative messages were not displayed.
  • Make sure what you’re saying reflects you positively: While the Leafs weren’t responsible for writing the comments, they were fully responsible for hosting them on their website. What does it say about you as an organization when someone visits your website and is immediately greeted with negativity about you? All of which, it should be noted, came from your supposed supporters.
  • Strategize for your social campaigns: The Leafs aren’t the only ones to misread their online audience: JP Morgan was forced to abandon a Twitter chat when questions went far off-message for its brand. Appropriate filters should be in place before a campaign goes live.

Leafs fans made the team look pretty bad here, but when it comes to social media, these types of things are far too frequent to be ignored and they should’ve known better.