7 Cringe-Worthy Social Media Fails … And What You Can Learn From Them

    By Ali Luke
    Published: August 21, 2013

Social media marketing is crucial for every business in today’s world – whether small or large.
Some business, though, don’t quite get it right. And some make mistakes that get splashed across the headlines. Going viral might well be what you’re aiming for … but not like this.

These seven social media fails show that there definitely is such a thing as bad publicity. They serve as great examples of what not to do.

Warning: some of these examples contain offensive language or sentiments.

#1: HabitatUK Spamming Hashtags

If you’re familiar with Twitter, you’ll have seen hashtags – words, short phrases or acronyms with a # symbol in front of them.

Some companies are tempted to “piggyback” in hashtags, knowing that users may well search on those particular tags – and thus see their promotional tweet.

In this case, though, Habitat ended up looking like a spammer with no regard for Twitter etiquette:

Habitat social media fail - spamming Twitter hashtags

Image from Stupid Twitter Mistakes,

Lessons learned:

  • Never use irrelevant hashtags in your tweets. The potential boost in visibility isn’t worth the backlash from annoyed tweeters.
  • Don’t let an intern handle your social media account (which is what happened here). If you do want to let them gain some experience of this, make sure an experienced colleague is on hand to help out.

#2: Cornetto UK Ignoring Remembrance Day

Cornetto UK sent a light-hearted Facebook update very shortly before 11am on Remembrance Day (11th November). Understandably, many of their Facebook followers were offended by the timing – the update struck an inappropriate tone for that particular moment.

Whether this was a badly-time pre-scheduled update, or one sent out by someone who wasn’t thinking, it was a big mistake.

Cornetto UK's social media fail - "Who's got that Friday feeling?"

 Images from 3 Stupid Facebook Mistakes by Big Brands,

Lessons learned:

  • Be aware of national events and news stories – and avoid scheduling updates too far in advance, in case you miss something.
  • If you do make a mistake, step in quickly to apologise and rectify it: as you can see from the screenshots, negative comments were pouring in half an hour after this update went onto the Cornetto UK page.

#3: CamryEffect Spamming Twitter Users

Toyota’s campaign to promote the Camry made a poor impression of Twitter users, by targeting individuals directly with unwanted messages. Worse, the content was blatantly promotional and self-serving – hardly an ideal way to make a good first impression on a Twitter user.

Camry Effect campaign - spamming Twitter users

 Image from Social Media Campaigns: Case Studies of the Biggest Fails of 2012 (So Far), Social Axis

Lessons learned:

  • Never mass-message users in this way on Twitter. If you want to engage with a specific individual, take the time to read their bio or look at their recent tweets, and start an actual conversation.
  • Think hard about how many promotional messages you’re putting out there. If someone comes to your Twitter page, you don’t want all your recent tweets to look boring and self-serving.

#4: KennethCole Making Light of Cairo Riots

In an even worse mistake than simply spamming a hashtag, Kenneth Cole made light of the May 2012 Cairo riots with an exceptionally ill-judged tweet:

Kenneth Cole - Cairo tweet

Image from Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo Tweet Angers the Internet, Mashable

Lessons learned:

  • Be careful about twisting a news story, or a hashtag, to suit you. This might work for light-hearted stories, but it’s a fast route to failure if you come across as offensive or ignorant.
  • Before you send any potentially sensitive tweet, ask someone else to read it to see whether they think it’s OK – especially if you have an off-beat sense of humour.

#5: MarkJacobsIntl Account Hijacked by Disgruntled Intern

After some unfortunate PR mistakes by CEO Robert Duffy, Mark Jacobs temporarily assigned the Twitter account to an intern.

Unfortunately, the intern clearly hadn’t had a very happy time in their role – and wasn’t afraid to let all 114,000 followers of the Mark Jacobs’ Twitter account know about it.

Marc Jacobs - angry intern tweets

Image from Marc Jacobs Intern’s Twitter Meltdown: Calls CEO A ‘Tyrant’,

Lessons learned:

  • Treat your employees and interns well. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also hugely important for your brand, when one angry employee can easily let the whole world know exactly how they feel.
  • Don’t let an intern or junior employee have access to company social media accounts outside working hours or on personal devices. These tweets were sent around midnight, from an iPhone.

#6: Boners BBQ Insult Yelp Reviewer

After a disappointing meal at a BBQ restaurant, a customer, Stephanie, left an in-depth, and balanced, review on Yelp.

The owner of Boners BBQ took expection to this, though, and posted Stephanie’s photo and an angry comment about her on their Facebook page, and on Twitter. (They also accused her of not tipping, though in a later response on Reddit, Stephanie explained that she did tip.)

Boners BBQ insults Yelp reviewer Stephanie

Image from Worst Use of Social Media in 2012: Boners BBQ,  UnMarketing

Before long, social-media savvy users on Facebook and Twitter realised what had happened – Boners BBQ had snapped in response to Stephanie’s Yelp review.

You can read the full story in Scott Stratten’s post Worst Use of Social Media of 2012: Boners BBQ or Huffington Post’s piece Boners BBQ Bashes Customer on Facebook and Twitter, Social Media Battle Ensues.

Lessons learned:

  • Never react in anger. It might well be very upsetting to you to get a negative review … but step away from the computer, and take a few deep breaths.
  • Never insult your customers in public (and your Facebook page is very, very public). If you really must let off steam, talk to a colleague or close friend.

#7: KitchenAidUSA Insult the US President … and his Dead Grandmother

Kitchen Aid insults President Obama and his dead grandmother

Image from Lessons from KitchenAid: Even the worst social media mistakes are preventable, Chicago Tribune

In this very recent fail, the KitchenAid account was used to tweet an offensive message during the US presidential debate in October 2012.

It’s clear that the individual in question didn’t intend to tweet from the company account. KitchenAid were swift to apologise. They were honest about what happened (rather than claiming that the account had been hacked), and this went some way toward repairing the damage done the their brand.

Lessons learned:

  • Make sure that your employees keep their personal account completely separate from the business one, using different applications if possible. This is far from the first case of an employee accidentally tweeting an inappropriate message from the company account.
  • Be careful with what you tweet from your personal account – and consider training employees on what is and isn’t appropriate on social media. Even if they’re tweeting from their own account, an offensive message could reflect badly on their employer.

As someone who loves social media, and who’s had many business benefits from it, I couldn’t help but cringe at these examples of companies getting it very, very wrong.

It takes time to learn the etiquette and nuances of social media, but generally, a few simple rules of thumb will serve you well:

  • Be extra-careful if you have multiple social media accounts in HootSuite (or another application) – always double-check that the tweet you’re about to send is going from the right account.
  • Limit how many people have access to the company accounts – and be very wary of giving access to inexperienced colleagues or interns. It only takes a moment’s poor judgement to cause huge damage.
  • Don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t be willing to shout in the village square, or publish in a newspaper. Yes, it’s an informal medium … but that doesn’t mean that you can be offensive or rude.

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