10 Epic Social Media Fails (and Lessons Learned)

They say, forewarned is forearmed, so I created this list in order to show a variety of situations brands may encounter when communicating in Social Media. In this post you will also find some useful advices for corporate social media management.

Wise men learn by other men’s mistakes, fools by their own.

– H.G. Brown

  • ‘Dell Hell
    Dell lies. Dell sucks. — BuzzMachine

In 2005, an influential blogger Jeff Jarvis was infuriated by the Dell’s horrible customer relations. First, he wrote a post in his blog that was transformed later into forum where dozens of other bloggers and hundreds of people left comments about Dell’s customer service. Dell learned from this experience and redesigned their customer service.

Moreover, Dell’s CEO invited Jarvis to consult and help with the renewal of the company. In October 2007, Jeff Jarvis wrote an article in Business Week “Dell Learns to Listen”

  • United Breaks Guitars

Canadian singer and songwriter Dave Carroll flew United Airlines with his band. His guitar ended up broken by the United Airlines’ baggage crew, and the airline refused to communicate and provided no compensation, even after repeated complaints by Carroll.

He responded by creating a music video about this and posting it on YouTube, which went viral. United Airlines reputation was badly damaged.

  • Nestle Kit Kat Greenpeace Attack

Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle Kit Kat procuring palm oil from suppliers who are “destroying the Indonesian rainforests, threatening the livelihood of local people and pushing orangutans towards extinction”. Nestle tried to control the conversation, but failed. The YouTube video went viral, damage to the company reputation was done and Nestle ended up rethinking its use of Palm oil.

  • Honda’s Too Enthusiastic Fan

image credit: autoblog.com

Honda launched a Facebook Page to get feedback from public on its new Accord Crosstour design. While many respondents were critical, one fan seemed to really like it and posted about his feelings. Other fans researched this fan’s identity and found out that he was an employee at Honda, responsible for product planning. Media picked up the story and Honda’s reputation was damaged.

  •  “Refrigerator Door Shutting Problem” Scandal

A famous Chinese blogger Luo Yonghao made repeated online complaints about a lack of customer service over a refrigerator door that “does not shut tightly.” Then he wrote about it on his microblog. Soon, other microbloggers expressed similar concerns and an anti-Siemens group was formed.

They decided to protest at Siemens headquarters in Beijing by wrecking Siemens refrigerators. No matter how hard they smashed, no one came out from Siemens to respond. Then they submitted written demands pressing Siemens to “immediately correct its position of refusing to admit product quality problems, shirking responsibility, ignoring consumer demands, and to recall its defective refrigerators.”

Two years have been past and there is still no clear result. While Luo insists Siemens recall all the defective products, Siemens China only provides customers with free home maintenance. At the same time, this incident has damaged Siemens’s market share, brand, reputation and image not only in China, but also worldwide.

  • Very Special Susan Boyle’s party 

image credit: Sam Silverwood-Cope

To promote the “Britain’s got talents” star’s new album “Standing Ovation”, a social media team used her official Twitter account @SusanBoyleHQ sent a tweet ending in a ‘hashtag’, where key words are joined together and preceded by a hash sign. The hashtag read #susanalbumparty.

Twitter users quickly realised that while it was supposed to read “Susan album party”, it could also have another meaning. Soon it was trending and it became one of the most retweeted Twitter hashtags in the world. It is believed the double entendre was unintentional, and the singer’s PR team declined to comment, but deleted the tweet.

  • Volkswagen’s New Year Resolutions

image credit: Tia Fisher

In 2012, Volkswagen wished their Facebook users a Happy New Year and asked, “… what would you like to see us do more of this year?”  So Greenpeace, citing Volkswagen’s anti-climate policies, encouraged its Facebook supporters to reply to the car maker’s query.  And environmental protesters started to post on Volkswagen Facebook page…

Not only did Volkswagen ignore the negative posts, but they also began deleting them.  The censorship angered the Greenpeace community, so they created another video and posted it on YouTube. This case became international and is still going on.

  • American Airline’s automated tweets

image credit: Jim Edwards and Twitter @RossSheingold

In February 2013, American Airlines’ policy of replying politely to every tweet backfired. People began tweeting insults at the company. Scripted tweeting doesn’t work; people want personal attention.

  • McDstories

Image credit: kuwaitiful.com

McDonalds decided to create a nostalgic campaign surrounding the memories people had with them as children. The campaign was to use the hashtag #McDStories. McDonalds’ campaign kicked off innocently enough, with two tweets sharing stories about their employees, food and suppliers.

Instead of the fond sentiments McDonald’s had intended to receive, they instead started to hear about poor work conditions, bad food and other negative issues connected with brand. They pulled the campaign within two hours, but they discovered that crowd-sourced campaigns are hard to control or stop. The #McDStories hashtag is still popular.

  • Kenneth Cole Hating Egypt

image credit: Marissa Brassfield for CalorieLab

Just as the riots in Egypt were in full swing, many brands took to various social media platforms to express their concern for the uproar. Kenneth Cole, however, had a very different take on the situation. When they tweeted “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://www.bit.ly/KCairo – KC”, they were met with a very unwelcome response from international bloggers.

Two hours later, the Kenneth Cole Twitter account issued an apology: “We weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation,” it read. “We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment.” Unfortunately, those two hours gave the blogosphere plenty of time to respond.

Image credit: Marissa Brassfield for CalorieLab

A fake Twitter account, @KennethColePR, began sending out similarly offensive missives, referencing Charlie Sheen, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, George Bush, Hurricane Katrina, the Tucson shootings and the Haiti earthquake. Other users supported this attack with their tweets and again the brand image was damaged.

Key learnings:

  1. Failing to deal with customers’ complaints can lead to frustrated customers taking their cause to the social media, where the sympathetic readers will support them. When negative posts happen, respond quickly and in a positive way. Let the customer know what the company is doing to fix the problem.
  2. Don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes and say that you were wrong.
  3. When communicating in social media about your company or products, employees should always clearly state that they work for your company.
  4. Your employees should engage, debate positively and have a conversation on social media instead of trying to control it, blocking conversation.
  5. Always check the trending #hashtags before using them. Also, double-check your hashtags before posting to avoid potential ambiguity.
  6. Don’t delete comments.
  7. Have a crisis communication plan ready. When the crisis will happen, you will need to react very fast.
  8. Don’t try to advertise on sensitive and controversial events.


 Sources, credits and further readings:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s