5 Epic Social Media Fails and How Not to Commit Them

The Internet is full of tales of woe about how people lost their jobs, lost their BFFs, or just lost their reputation by a social media mistake.

It’s scary stuff.

But where these articles fall short is on the advice side. It’s one thing to laugh, squirm, cry, or rant at the idiots doing the stupid social media stuff.

But what if it’s us? What if we’re the ones who are likely to commit the next major Facebook blunder or Twitter fiasco?

What then?

All those “stupid things people did on Twitter” articles suddenly don’t seem so funny.

Let’s take another look at those epic social media fails, and see what we can do about avoiding such mistakes, not just laughing at them.

1. Don’t defend yourself like this.

After landing a spot on “Kitchen Nightmares,” the restaurant-owning duo took some flak for the way that they ran their restaurant. When Amy and Samy heard the negative PR, they unloaded the heavy artillery in their defense.

The dealt it back a little harder than they needed to.

When things simmered down (a bit), and the couple had an hour or so to cool down, they posted this:

So, for whatever it’s worth, they said

sorry not sorry.

HuffPo’s Leigh Blickley, admitted

these people are freaking crazy.

The Internet loved to hate them. Parodies, cartoons, complaints, they had to deal with a lot.


But they dealt with it in the wrong way.

What’s the lesson for humanity?

People are going to say bad things about you. Deal with it.

But when you’re in the heat of a flame war, it’s easy to lose touch with your inner zen, and let loose with some salty language and a few well-placed insults. Touching keys with your fingers just happens. It’s hard to help it, right?

Yes, it’s hard. But wait. Just wait. When the haters rant and the bloggers begin ramping up their campaign, just wait.

You will gain more by staying silent than by trying to defend yourself. If you’re lucky, those in the Internet community not pouring forth vitriol will defend you. But if you’re not defended by the Internet’s gracious-hearted, a period of silence on your part will at least give the haters less ammunition to throw back at you.

Defensiveness is never a good PR move. Neither is sniping back at your critics.

2. Do not capitalize on tragedy.

When bad things happen, it’s never a good time for you to make a buck from it.

This is what London Luton tried to do with their Facebook pic and comment:

The caption read, “‘Because we are such a super airport….this is what we prevent you from when it snows……Weeeee :).”

Tragically, the photo used was from an accident in which a child was killed.

Although it didn’t take place directly on social media, American Apparel did something similar during the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy. They had a sale.

That storm took 285 lives, destroyed 650,000 homes, and caused the loss of $75 billion in physical capital.

Not the time for a 20% off sale.

No, let’s not do sales during hurricanes.

Events like this are no laughing matter. It’s not a time for jokes, no time for sales. It’s not a time for marketing campaigns. It’s a time for mourning, for respect, and for tactful silence.

Advice: Implement a double-check approach for Facebook posts. If you have one person creating the posts, have another person check them before they are scheduled or posted. To simplify this practice, use a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to create, review, and schedule posts before they go live.

3. Don’t cuss out your customers.

Any unkind words you say on Facebook about your customers will be duly noted.

Like this tirade:

Sorry you had to read that.

It happened, and it’s too bad, because that kind of customer service is what makes headlines, not pacifies customers.

In the real world, there are unpleasant customers. They do complain. Their complaints could be baseless and unnecessary.

But you still have to respond with patience if you want to keep your reputation intact.

Advice:  Instead of reacting to a customer’s insults, a short, brief, apology is all that needs to happen. You can’t successfully solve an irate customer’s angst in a Facebook thread, anyway. Please, don’t try.

Pigalle’s fiasco could have been sidestepped if they merely asked, “We are very sorry that you had an unpleasant experience. We are sending you a direct message with a personal apology from our owner, returning your $200 bill, and finding out what we can do to improve.”


4. Don’t ask your followers to defriend people.

The point of social media is to build relationships and connect the world in meaningful ways.

What was Burger King doing, then, by blowing up social media with its “sacrifice” terminology, and sending “angry-grams?”

They were shooting their brand reputation in the foot, that’s what.

Burger King went to the trouble of creating an application that allowed Facebook users to defriend people.

If you get rid of ten of your friends, you’ll get a free whopper. Pretty cool, huh?

So maybe Facebook friendships aren’t that deep. And maybe your friend list could use some pruning. But this is not how to do social media.

Advice:  Use and encourage social media for what it is intended to do — foster and sustain human relationships.

Cold-hearted defriending is not the way to run a great campaign. Instead, warmhearted encouragements go a long way in enhancing your brand reputation.

5. Limit user-generated content when you are facing negative publicity.

It’s no secret that some people don’t like the police force. For all the help and safety that these public servants provided, they have also been the recipients of negative publicity as well.

The New York Police Department attempted to face the negative publicity head on, by soliciting user-generated content in the form of a hashtag campaign, featuring photos of NYPD members.

Unfortunately, hashtag campaigns do more than elicit positivity. They can also generate negativity.

This might be a nice photo:

But this is not.

Active Twitter users, on the whole, did not possess very many positive photos of NYPD activity.

Advice:  If you’re going to ask for user generated content, do so on a neutral topic, and only when your brand is enjoying positive vibes.

Generally speaking, people are more likely to participate in a UGC campaign when they are either 1) extremely happy, or 2) extremely unhappy. On the whole, the public’s attitude towards the police force doesn’t skew positive. If anything, it’s neutral. In the wake of media coverage about police brutality, however, it may tend to skew negative.

That is not the time to launch a UGC campaign.

You as a brand have no control over what people can post on social media, and opening the floodgates will only give you a level of exposure that you may not want.


Social media is dicey territory. You’re taking a big risk by sticking your neck out in the wild and wooly world of customers, fans, haters, and unhinged erstwhile customers.

But for all the newsworthy negativity, there’s a ton of positivity. Social media is like anything innovation. It can be used for good, and it runs the risk of being used for ill.

What social media safeguards does your brand have in place?

Jessica Corry

Jessica is a marketing consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship.

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