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Whether you’re a small business with a solitary Twitter account, a mid sized agency using the latest monitoring tools, or a huge corporation with a multi-million dollar Facebook campaign , at some point, we all will make mistakes playing the social media game.  

Just hope that you don't crap out by making mistakes as big as the following...  

Kryptonite Evolution vs ball point pen

Lock picked by pen

A man discovers that he can pick the Kryptonite Evolution 200 U lock—once deemed the “toughest lock in bike security” -with a Bic ball point pen. 

First he blogs about it, then other blogs and local newspapers catch wind of the story. Worst of all, the brand failed to respond, even when the New York Times ran a featured story. Fail.

Lesson: Listen to your customers, it could really help your product development team.

L'Oreal faked it

Fake blogs

L’Oreal’s social media presence took a huge hit when it was revealed that they created a fake blog. Push marketing in the social media space is always a bad idea, especially when it’s this blatant.

Lesson:  Don't create fake testimonials or blogs. Ever.

Quiznos's 2 girls and 1 sub

2 girls 1 sub

Quiznos ran this ad campaign that spoofed the infamous 2 Girls and 1 Cup viral YouTube video. Poor taste by Quiznos.

Lesson: Spoofing porn is usually a bad idea.

BP Fail

BP fail

BP spills millions of gallons of its oil in the golf of Mexico. Shortly after, it finds its Facebook pages clogged with outraged environmentalists.  As if BP didn't already piss off environmentalists. 

Best of all, a group of protestors created this fake, yet super hilarious, Twitter account.

Lesson: If you've already got a shoddy reputation, you've got to work three times as hard to fix the mistake.

My Dell Hell

My Dell Hell

Dell's reputation went up in smoke after tech blog Gizmodo published this photo of an exploding Dell laptop. This single image spread like wildfire across the blogosphere, causing Dell to eventually recall over four million laptop batteries. 

Dell eventually responded to the blogs, but it was the delayed response that put a cap on the period known as "Dell Hell."  Should have responded sooner.

Lesson:  A single image can be powerful. Use social media to stomp out fires before they turn into wildfires.

Comcast guy falls asleep on couch

In 2007, Comcast technicians became the poster child for poor customer service. This video had over one million views and spurred other Comcast customers to spy on their cable guy. 

Youtube was soon over-run with Comcast guys sleeping on the job. Worst of all, Comcast had no response.

Lesson:  YouTube can be used against you. Dig deep for anti-brand videos.

Dominos Pizza "extra toppings"

Two employees post a video on YouTube that grosses out an entire nation of pizza goers. What saved this from being anything more than a goof, however, was the reaction of then USA Domino's president, Patrik Doyle. 

He gave a well-worded apology and took full responsibility. Chrysler should have been paying attention to this.

Lesson: Create social media guidelines for the entire company.

Red Cross gets slizzerd

american red cross tweet slizzered

It was an innocent mistake. The Red Cross's social media specialist (who was an intern) meant to send this tweet from his personal Twitter profile - not from the @Red Cross account. 

Like Dominos, however, the Red Cross did a great job of owning up to the mistake, and even poked fun out of themselves in a later tweet. It was a big goof, but not a total fail. 

Lesson: Have a system of checks and balances in place for your social media efforts.  Don't expect interns to handle the full load by themselves.

Chrysler hates Detroit drivers

chrysler tweet

It'd be different if this tweet came from Honda or even BMW: not a great idea, but it would be different. But this message came from Chrysler, the same company spending millions on the "Imported from Detroit" campaign. 

Making this situation even worse was Chrysler's excuse that the account was "hacked." Even though this could be true, Chrysler should have taken a page from Red Cross and Dominos.

Lesson:  Always apologize: even when it's not entirely your fault.

United breaks the wrong guy's guitar

United breaks David Carroll's guitar and makes little effort to compensate him. So David does what's natural to him: he makes a music video. 

Later, a Times newspaper reports that four days after the videos release, United Airline's stock price dropped 10%, costing stockholders over $180m in value. Today the video is a smash hit and has over 10m views. Customer service fail.

Lesson:  Respond to customer complaints, quickly.

KFC is over-run by rats

In 2007, a KFC was over-run by rats. Worst yet, KFC failed to respond properly. They settled for a typical press release in which they claimed that this was an "isolated incident" and that the "restaurant has been closed and will not be reopened until it has been sanitized".  

Thanks to the viral power of YouTube, however, the whole world heard about this story. The press release did little to slow the spread.

Lesson:  A press release won't stop a social media maelstrom. Use video to fight video.

GoDaddy CEO hunts elephants

In March of this year, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons killed an elephant, posted it on YouTube, and then preceded to Tweet about his adventure. 

Although his intentions were noble (see the video), tweeting and posting video of animal killings is not a good idea. The backlash from PETA was swift and immediate. 

Lesson:  Don't kill anything and then post it to YouTube or Twitter. PETA will destroy you.

Kenneth Cole starts a Riot

kenneth cole tweet

Kenneth Cole jumped in boiling water when they tried to hijack the #Cairo tag associated with the Egyptian Riots. As Chris Lake mentioned in a post earlier this year, hijacking hash tags is almost always a bad idea.  

Lesson:  Brands, hash tag hijacking is always a bad idea, especially if it has nothing to do with your product. Be careful what you comment on.

Weiner

weiner tweet

There's not much to be said about this one: everyone knows this story. A promising member of the House of Reps, Anthony Wiener, tweets an inappropriate pic of himself.

The pic gets leaked to the press. Weiner denies it's him in the pic (pun intended), and then later admits that it was in fact his picture. Although he eventually apologized - taking full responsibility - this tweet essentially ended his career. Epic fail.

Lesson:  Apologies won't solve everything (The Weiner Principle). Use the lessons learned above, and don't be a Wiener. 

What marketers should learn from this

Push marketing rarely works as a social media strategy. Instead of releasing a standard press release, use a multitude of social media channels to interact with your audience.  Doing so makes your message much more likely to be spread.    

And if you're using social media, make sure you take it on seriously. Create the proper support channels and oversight so that mistakes don't happen, because once your message is out there in the universe, it can't be taken down easily. 

But if mistakes are made, be prepared to go through the appropriate social media channels to push an apology message out there. And make sure that while pushing your apology message out there that you're interacting with disgruntled customers. 

Not only will this demonstrate to the world that you are listening, but also that you are truly empathetic.

Were there any epic fails that I missed?  Please share in the comments below. Hope you enjoyed...

Cleo Kirkland

Published 30 September, 2011 by Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland is a digital strategist at Blue Fountain Media and a contributor to Econsultancy

7 more posts from this author

Comments (21)

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Steven Mikellides

I cant actually remember a number of these! Although the Quiznos one was awful it must be said. Very poor taste indeed!

about 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Another rule of social media marketing--know who has access to your accounts! A Marc Jacobs intern went on a full social media rant about the designer, essentially hijacking the Twitter account. Make sure no one has access to your profiles that you can't trust!

about 5 years ago

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Angelina Foster

Some of these fail stories are quite entertaining! I do remember some of these, will have to watch the videos when I'm back home!

about 5 years ago

Zeynep Ahmet

Zeynep Ahmet, Junior researcher at Mobile Life VinnExcellence Centre

Wow, powerful mistakes, found the Quiznos one sort of distasteful... I'm curious though about push marketing, L'oreal obviously isn't the only company having to used the method. Is there any company that actually succeeded and gotten away with a 'fake blog' that wasn't part of an AR game? Really entertaining blog post, thank you for sharing!

about 5 years ago

Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland, Digital Strategist at Blue Fountain Media

Nick: Mac Jacobs would have been a great one to include. Also thought about including Sony's "All I Want for Xmas is a PSP". It's hilarious

Zeynep: Good question. Couldn't find any, but I imagine there's a few. Possibly the ones that announce from the outset that this is a fake blog/video testimonial. Points to anyone who finds an example :)

about 5 years ago

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Laura Howe

Cleo,
I lead the PR effort for the Red Cross. Thanks for the mention in the post. We've certainly learned alot from the rogue tweet and hope others have been able to learn from our mistake as well.

Just as a small point of clarification, the indivudal who accidentially posted the rogue tweet-Gloria Huang-is a full time employee on our social media team. We don't make a practice of giving interns access to our corporate social accounts.

Thanks for letting me clear that up!

about 5 years ago

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Heather Baker

Facinating and real lessons to be learned. The sad thing is that these high profile fails have discouraged a number of organisations from embarking on social media campaigns, meaning they are missing out on the many marketing possibilities offered by social media to both B2B and B2C organisations.

about 5 years ago

Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland, Digital Strategist at Blue Fountain Media

Hi Laura,

This is great! The Red Cross certainly does have a great social media program (as evidenced by your quick response). I'm a huge fan of your program, and now a major fan of you :) My apologies for the mistake, and thank you for contributing.

about 5 years ago

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Sam Taylor

There is some amazing examples here, I think the lesson should be respond on a medium that will reach the outraged customers and be genuine, hold your hands up and admit the mistake. The Apple Iphone 4 signal issue is another classic example of bad response.

about 5 years ago

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william King

It is 100% true that once you have done a mistake and spoiled your image then this you have to work 3 times to make your reputation again. As it is said that one negative comment read about you can left ever lasting effect in readers mind and then he always hesitate to have any relation with you.

about 5 years ago

Debbie Pascoe

Debbie Pascoe, Sr. Manager at Accenture Interactive

Awesome list - the only one I woud ad is the most recent one - @Attackwatch - the biggest joke on Twitter that just keeps on giving - Lesson: social media is a two-way street - if you're going to go big brother on us, we'll smack you - hard. Lesson #2- don't have ulterior motives - ppl can see through that. Standing up a site and soliciting participation for the real purpose of creating a potential donor hit list is just wrong.

about 5 years ago

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Dan Greenfield

Nice compilation - Curious to know how many social media communications crises are caused by companies proactively using social media in a way that backfires vs a disgruntled public or customer who uses social media to amplify their displeasure at a company action - Kenneth Cole's Dumb Tweet vs United Breaks Guitars YouTube Video. In the first case, the damage is self inflicted. In the second, an unhappy customer made a viral video about the way his luggage was handled.

about 5 years ago

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Wendy

Did you really mean "apathetic" there at the end? Or "empathetic?"

about 5 years ago

Edward Cowell

Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK

Make it 15. No list of social epic fails can be complete without Vodafones: http://twitpic.com/11i8sk

about 5 years ago

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Michael Rockwell

excellent article, it just goes to show, how easy it is to offend, and how difficult it is to fix said offense, the real lesson here is to be careful what you do on social media, once something is online, it can be impossible to retract.

about 5 years ago

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Josephine

Only your own fail Cleo. How can you not have fixed the typo at the end yet?! You surely did not mean to say 'apathetic'?

about 5 years ago

Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland, Digital Strategist at Blue Fountain Media

Sam: "Hold your hands up, and admit your mistake." I love that line. Definitely going to steal it for another article, lol.

Edward: Haha. That's a great example.

Wendy & Joesphine: Yes, I meant empathetic. Epic self-editing #fail. Will contact Graham and others to change.

about 5 years ago

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Judi-mae Galer

Very interesting article! I remember actually learning about the Kryptonite viral fail in an IDM Digital Marketing course.

Brands should learn that social media and the information age the internet has brought to consumers is making them so much more savvy to marketing. It's a lot more 'pull' than it is 'push' nowadays. If you want to keep your customers and prospects happy then you genuinely need to offer them something of worth - and they'll see through anything fake any day.
Weren't L'Oreal also the ones who got in trouble for using fake eyelashes in a mascara advert? When will they learn?!

about 5 years ago

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Zara

Fantastic post! I know it's a few days after this happened that you posted this. But this one is brilliant. Steve Yegge, a Google engineer on Google+

about 5 years ago

Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland, Digital Strategist at Blue Fountain Media

Judi-mae: Lol. L'Oreal seems all over the board interms of their efforts. Some work well, sort of..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggX9AjSLfAw&feature=player_embedded..and others are just down right awful mistakes.

Zara: Yeah, just saw that. And did you hear the rumor that Google's Internal Hand Editor's Guide was leaked yet again? Does anyone have a copy of it? Just curious...

about 5 years ago

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David Drinkall

So these are actually really great ... These are more about understanding the implications of your posts and actions and how they could be spread. Social is powerful for promoting or demoting your brand lol

over 3 years ago

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