The 7 Worst (And Most Amusing) Mistakes Brands Have Ever Made on Social Media
Social media marketing represents an enormous opportunity for brand exposure. If you execute your strategy carefully, you’ll be able to publicly communicate with thousands — or even millions — of people, all at once. The power of social media for brands is incredible, but therein lies its vulnerability; when you make a mistake at this level, there could be thousands to millions of people watching you do it, and there’s no easy way to recover.
If you want to avoid making such mistakes on social media, regardless of whether you’re working with millions or hundreds of followers, one of the best — and most amusing — ways to do so is by examining and learning from the mistakes of others.
Here are 7 of the worst mistakes brands have ever made on social media:
1. American Apparel accidentally tweets a national tragedy. Back in 2014, American Apparel used an image of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster in a bid for a Fourth of July promotion, believing the image to be of fireworks. Immediately, the social media world took notice and began to criticize the company for the error. American Apparel retracted and apologized for the tweet, stating that a person too young to remember the incident posted it, but the damage was already done. They came across as ignorant and insensitive, and lost a sizable chunk of their following.
2. Delta misunderstands geography. Shortly after a World Cup match between the United States and Ghana, Delta posted images celebrating the teams, with a giraffe and the Statue of Liberty. There was just one problem — Ghana doesn’t have giraffes. Citizens of both Ghana and the United States were quick to address the ignorance of the image, and Delta offered an apology in return. This is one case where a quick fact-check could have avoided the entire scenario.
3. JP Morgan has poor timing. JP Morgan tried to do a good thing by opening itself up for public questions with a hashtag, #AskJPM. There was just one big problem with this — its recent public scrutiny for manipulating world financial markets and resulting criminal probes. Rather than using the hashtag for polite, insightful questions the way JP Morgan intended, consumers began grilling the company and criticizing its business practices. The hashtag started trending, exactly as the company intended, just not in the positive way they wanted it to.
4. Home Depot makes a racist joke. In 2013, the Home Depot posted an image with a snarky line, featuring a man in a gorilla costume next to two African-Americans. Though possibly intended as an innocuous joke, there was an obvious racial subtext to the image, and users were immediately offended. It wasn’t as damning as a flat-out racist remark, but it showed an insensitivity and lack of judgment that the company couldn’t easily recover from. It took weeks for the outrage to calm.
5. US Airways tweets porn. The headline says it all. Okay, so maybe it was a little more complicated than that. An angry customer reached out to US Airways with a complaint. Trying to respond quickly, a social media employee accidentally sent out a reply tweet that featured a pornographic image that had been tweeted to the company previously. The end result was all of US Airways’ followers seeing the offensive image in their newsfeeds. Needless to say, the prompt removal of the image wasn’t enough to make up for the incident.
6. DiGiorno misuses a hashtag about domestic abuse. In 2014, the hashtag #WhyIStayed became popular as a show of support and means of storytelling for victims of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, the social media team at DiGiorno didn’t do enough research on the hashtag, and tweeted out a reference to staying “because there was pizza.” Though arguably an innocent mistake, the remark came across as ignorant and insensitive, landing the company in hot water.
7. Microsoft’s AI experiment gets trolled. In theory, Tay was a brilliant idea. Microsoft created an artificial intelligence program to serve as a basic Twitter user account and talk to people. From these conversations, it would “learn” how to chat and become a strong participant in the social media community. Unfortunately, abusive users soon found out about this and began to converse with the program in ways to trick it into becoming racist, ignorant, and even cruel. Within a day, the program was tweeting out things like “We’re going to build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it,” and Microsoft took the program down.
You can look at these stories as amusing anecdotes, but there are some good lessons to learn here. These are some of the most important, across the board:
· Proofread everything. It only takes an extra minute or two, especially on short-form platforms like Twitter. Double check your spelling, wording, and any media you’re attaching to your post before committing to send it out.
· Check your facts. Social media is a conversational platform, but you don’t want to be caught lying or stating something ignorant. If you’re in doubt, don’t make the assumption — check and double check your facts.
· Be prepared for attacks and exploits. Work under the assumption that you’re going to be trolled. That way, you’ll always be prepared for the worst.
· Understand hashtags before using them. Hashtags can be a powerful way to get some extra visibility, but only if you’re using them properly. Again, don’t make any assumptions here — check your instincts.
Take these lessons to heart, and keep them at the core of your social media marketing strategy. You’ll never be perfect, and you’ll never be able to prevent every mistake, but if you can mitigate the frequency and severity of your mistakes, you’ll never end up in the unfortunate positions the brands above did.