While at the 2012 Murmuration Social Technology conference, I had the opportunity to hear from a Nissan representative about the “social media fail” they ran into with a marketing campaign idea for the Nissan LEAF.

Nissan’s campaign idea centered around coming up with a “wave” that one LEAF owner could use when passing another LEAF owner on the road. Stephen Colbert, in his always-satirical way, did a pretty good job of roasting the Nissan campaign in the video below.

After playing the video clip for us, the Nissan representative spoke about they chose to roll with Colbert’s teasing, how they turned it into a positive PR experience and how they gained a substantial number of new Twitter followers, Facebook fans and other mentions in national publications.

In short, the Nissan representative told us that he couldn’t thank Stephen Colbert enough for what he did.

Many companies are hesitant to “go social” because they fear a negative backlash. But the reality is that others are talking about your brand whether or not your brand is present on social networks. Sure, unexpected events like this aren’t part of your planned social media content strategy, but your company’s ability to react and respond is what can turn a would-be PR nightmare into a PR triumph.

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