2011 has been an interesting year for social media. It started out with various small uprisings in North Africa, with social platforms an apparent catalyst for the full-on revolutions that followed thereafter.

We’ve also seen lots of great social campaigns this year, and many brands are now using the likes of Twitter and Facebook to provide great service to their customers. 

However, we also inevitably witnessed a number of foot in mouth incidents, and I thought it would be a good idea to compile them for your viewing pleasure.

I’ve sorted them into four categories: brands, agencies, people and platforms. Pull up a cushion…

BRANDS

Qantas

Where to start? Well, last year I wrote about the airline’s inability to do the basics of digital right (operational, service-based email). This year Qantas has been under the cosh somewhat, with strike action grounding its fleet of aircraft. Tens of thousands of travellers were affected, including Stephen ‘3.5m followers’ Fry.

So how did it use social media in this testing time? To launch a #QantasLuxury competition, that’s how. Qantas asked people to describe their dream flight. The beleaguered crowd responded exactly as you might expect.

Durex in misogynist joke shocker

Whoever is responsible for the condom brand’s Twitter stream in South Africa forgot that it wasn’t the 1970s with this tweet:

More followed, along with a lame apology, before somebody finally realised that this probably wasn’t a smart idea. It deleted the tweets in question. More background here.

Kenneth ‘doh’ Cole

As the world tuned in to Al Jazeera for its brilliant online coverage of the escalating situation in Egypt, this fashion brand thought it would be a good idea to hijack the #Cairo hashtag to plug a sale. People are dying! Buy more shoes! 

The social media trolling from Kenneth Cole didn’t end there, sadly. 

GoDaddy shoots an elephant

CEO Bob Parsons went to Africa with a shotgun and the rest is history. ‘Problem’ elephant or not, some hobbies probably shouldn’t be videoed and uploaded to the internet for the world to see. 

Netflix vs stoner

It has been a tricky year for the video rental company, with customers in revolt and leaving en masse after a spate of bad decisions and even worse communications. The cherry on Netflix’s shitcake was the failure to own the Twitter account of a sub-brand it launched (and swiftly killed) called Qwikster. An “affable stoner” called Jason Castillo owned the @Qwikster account. Schoolboy error.

Chrysler Autos vs Detroit motorists

Chrysler Autos thought it would be a good idea to accuse the residents of Motor City of not being able to drive. Or at least one unfortunate individual who worked at the agency responsible for the Chrysler Autos tweets did. And yes, he was promptly fired.

@Easyjetcare’s lack of Twitter activity

I know that low-cost airlines don’t really care for offering outstanding customer service, but if you launch a Twitter account purely for the purposes of answering customer queries then why stop using it? It hasn’t responded to a customer in more than a month…

Braehead Shopping Centre

Not a place for family photographs.

AGENCIES

Sapient Nitro

“La la la, we wrote a song! La la la, we made a video!” Watch it here to understand why there was much guffawing in social land. More than 1,100 dislikes on YouTube vs 123 likes tells a story.

PHD Worldwide

Please, somebody, make it stop.

More background here, if you have the stomach for further analysis.

Grey New York

Hires plane to drag a banner with its corporate strapline over the Cannes Advertising Festival. Inserts a massive typo. Cue lots of irony-induced belly laughs, and a trending topic on Twitter. It was brilliantly effective in raising awareness, but the message itself left a lot to be desired.

Ketchum

The PR firm invited a bunch of food bloggers to dinner in a four star restaurant. Good start. It then served up an unusual twist: microwaved meals were used instead of the real deal. It also videoed the reactions of the unfortunate diners, and planned to upload them to YouTube. The bloggers were less than amused

Bell Pottinger

Major PR firm in due diligence and bold claims shocker.

PEOPLE

Mark Davidson

I’m in the camp that believes that individuals should not employ ghostwriters to do their tweeting for them. All kinds of things can go wrong, especially when one of them turns rogue. More so when the ‘client’ is asleep at the wheel.

UPDATE: Apparently this was a big hoax. Mark says he wasn’t using ghostwriters at all, he was simply creating mischief. Background here. Clearly I’m one of those bloggers who he wanted to “teach a lesson”.

Ashton Kutcher 

Some things you can’t defend in private, much less in a public forum where 8m+ people are tuning in. Kutcher might have done a little more research before supporting Joe Paterno, a football coach who was fired after failing to report a paedophile to the police back in 2002. Kutcher has since left Twitter in the hands of his PR people. 

David Cameron, Louise Mensch & chums vs Facebook & Twitter

In summer, when England was aflame, certain wrong-headed politicians thought that social networks like Twitter and Facebook should be switched off. Madness, in my view, and a slippery slope. Presumably the TV channels would have been next, followed by the media at large. And then what? 

Suppressing social media platforms is so obviously not the answer. The disaffected have been rioting since time immemorial. Besides, social media platforms actually helped people to avoid the chaos, and a number of troublemakers have been jailed since summer for inciting riots on the likes of Facebook. 

Like brands, I feel that the powers that be should be tuning into Twitter to learn about sentiment, and to preempt issues, rather than trying to dictate terms over how it is used. Technology has always had it in the neck during civil unrest.

Gilbert Gottfried got fired

The voice of the Alfac duck thought it would be a good idea to tweet some jokes about the tsunami that devastated Japan earlier this year. Alfac axed him within an hour of discovering the tweets.

Jimmy Wales

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jimmy Wales is a good guy. But begging just isn’t cool, and his ceaseless ‘personal appeal’ for cash on Wikipedia is well past its sell-by date.

Here’s an idea: why not just put some contextual, unobtrusive advertising on Wikipedia to generate some revenue? Doesn’t it amount to much the same thing?

Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell’s ill-considered comments about social media and revolution helped to rocket propel him over a shiver of sharks. You don’t think Martin Luther King would have employed Facebook as a tool for raising awareness? Really? 

PLATFORMS

Google botches launch of Google Plus

I rather looked forward to seeing what Google Plus was all about, but when I tried to create my profile I was told that Google Apps For Domains customers were not supported. That’s right, Google prevented its 3m corporate customers from accessing Google Plus. I imagined that these were precisely the kind of people that it should have focused on, given what ‘Circles’ is all about.

I used a standard issue Gmail account to log into Plus, and last month Google finally opened up Plus for its customers. But now I have two accounts, and there’s no way to merge them easily. Talk about engineering apathy.

The slow, sad death of Digg

I continue to mourn the loss of a fantastic platform. Digg has unfortunately paid the price of annoying too many of its core users, and has never undone some of the bad decisions it made when rolling out Digg v4. Reddit, by contrast, goes from strength to strength.

So what did I miss? Let me know in the comments below. And here’s hoping some of the more basic errors in judgement can be avoided in 2012!