One of our main focuses on the Econsultancy blog is highlighting instances of best practice and digital excellence in the marketing world.

But every so often it’s also useful to shine a light on the mistakes that people make, particularly when it comes to social media.

I could try to lie and say that I’m doing this so we can all learn valuable lessons from the unfortunate errors of others, but truthfully I just find it quite amusing.

So without further ado, here are the 16 worst social media fails from 2013. And if this isn’t enough, feel free to check out the 10 worst social fails from last year as well.

Benadryl forgets that people love childish jokes

As part of its content marketing efforts during hay fever season Benadryl created an interactive pollen count map that allowed sufferers to pinpoint pollen hotspots.

On the face of it this is a great idea, as it is a useful tool that caters perfectly to Benadryl’s target audience.

Alas, it didn’t take long for people to realise that the pins could be used to spell out swear words, or indeed draw rude pictures….


The Onion drops the ‘c’ bomb

The Onion’s satirical take on the day’s news often blurs the line between being edgy and just plain offensive, yet its owners tend to remain resolutely unapologetic.

However a tweet about nine-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallis during the Oscars was deemed to be a step too far, and it’s not difficult to see why.

For those that can’t guess, the blur is hiding a four-letter word beginning with ‘c’.

The tweet caused a backlash on social media, forcing CEO Steve Hannah to issue a personal apology stating that the company was introducing new Twitter guidelines and would be “taking immediate steps to discipline this individuals responsible.”

The breathtaking arrogance of JP Morgan

In a brilliant example of a brand being entirely ignorant of its own public image, JP Morgan put its vice chairman Jimmy Lee up for a Q&A in November.

After the hashtag #AskJPM was pelted with abuse prior to the Q&A going live, JP Morgan came to its senses and cancelled the event.

Just goes to show that Twitter Q&As aren’t for everyone, particularly not money-grabbing bankers…

British Airways’ customer service fail

Having a customer moan about your service via social media isn’t exactly a fail in itself, but it is if that customer buys social advertising to promote their complaint and the brand then fails to respond for another eight hours.

This is exactly the situation that British Airways found itself in when a Twitter user decided that the world needed to know about his lost luggage.

Annoyed by BA’s failure to find his father’s lost suitcase, Hassan Syed paid for this Promoted Tweet, which was seen by more than 76,000 users:

Despite such being the subject of such a public complaint, BA failed to respond to Syed for eight hours as the message had been posted outside of its customer service hours.

BA’s failure to get to grips with the 24/7 nature of social media and implement some sort of crisis management meant that the problem festered in a very public domain for far too long.

Amy’s Baking has a public meltdown

Restaurants that appear on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares are obviously in need of a helping hand, however the owners of Amy’s Bakery in Scottsdale, Arizona set a new low.

They stole tips, admitted to firing more than 100 staff and picked fights with customers.

This inevitably caused a few murmurings online as people discussed what they’d seen on TV, but the reaction from owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo was alarming even by the low, low standards set by social media.

Here are just a few of the highlights of the ensuing rant:

Home Depot’s casual racism

In November Home Depot was forced into a grovelling apology after it tweeted a picture of two African-American employees with a person in a gorilla mask in between them.

This is not racist in itself, however it was also accompanied by the words: “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Twitter users were obviously offended by the tweet, which was quickly pulled and blamed on a “stupid” employee who was subsequently fired.

Tesco caught horsing around

The horsemeat scandal was one of the biggest stories to hit the UK this year, and grocery giant Tesco was one of the most prominent villains/victims.

Food investigators found that horsemeat accounted for almost a third of its Everyday Value burgers, though to its credit Tesco did immediately take action to remove the products from its shelves.

Unfortunately its customer care team wasn’t quite as sharp, and had to issue a quick apology after failing to stop this pre-scheduled tweet from going out…

Luton Airport makes light of child’s death

In March Luton Airport posted a light-hearted Facebook update to assure passengers that they would remain safe even when it snows.

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

Unfortunately the social team made the bizarre decision to include an image of a real-life plane crash that caused the death of a six-year old car passenger.

People were understandably offended and the picture was removed shortly afterwards. 

British Gas gets its timing all wrong

Another Twitter Q&A, another epic fail, this time organised by British Gas.

Back in October the utility company arranged a Q&A to coincide with an announcement that it was increasing prices by 11%. The PR team apparently thought that Twitter was the perfect forum in which to answer customer queries about the greedy and indefensible price hike.

Our own head of social Matt Owen has already examined the ensuing debacle in more detail, discovering that of the 16,000+ angry responses that British Gas received 145 contained the word ‘death’ and 88 accused the company of being ‘greedy’.

Epicurious uses Boston bombings to sell scones

The wonderful thing about brands is that they can’t help but see the marketing opportunities that lie within tragic events.

Last year retailers were falling over themselves to try and make a few extra sales off the back of Hurricane Sandy in New York, and in March food website Epicurious used the Boston marathon bombings as an excuse to promote its range of breakfast options.

In fairness the tweets were posted in the best possible taste and “in honor of Boston and New England”…

Nokia finally loses it

Poor old Nokia has had a rough few years after seeing its once dominant position in the mobile phone market usurped by the likes of Apple and Samsung.

In November the pressure finally became too much for the folks in its New Zealand office, leading to this beauty:

Ryanair’s CEO shows his true colours

In October Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary took to Twitter to answer questions from the public about his budget airline.

The idea was to try and soften his image and that of the company, however it didn’t work as O’Leary made a series of sexist and confrontational remarks which was in keeping with his existing image as a brash, arrogant CEO.

It was also a reminder that brands need to get the basics right when hosting a Twitter Q&A, as O’Leary forgot to put dots in front of his responses so that they were visible to all of the airlines followers and more importantly he failed to use the branded hashtag.  

American Airlines stays upbeat in the face of adversity

It’s not uncommon to send out automatic stock responses to @mentions on Twitter as a way of streamlining the customer service process. However it only works if the responses make sense.

In February American Airlines was caught out when it sent upbeat responses to a series of complaints from Twitter users.

Burger King and Jeep promote their rivals

Burger King and Jeep both lost control of their Twitter feeds after they were hacked by an unknown group.

The hackers changed Burger King’s logo and profile name to McDonald’s, before tweeting that the company had been bought out by its competitor.

It then took a turn for the worse, with tweets about Burger King employees taking drugs and other offensive material.

The company regained control of the feed shortly afterwards, and hopefully reset the password. Unfortunately the hackers weren’t finished, and swiftly replaced Jeep’s logo on its Twitter feed with a Cadillac symbol. 

Hey Starbucks, why don’t you pay some tax?

Admittedly this example isn’t technically from this year, but it occurred during Christmas 2012 which I deem to be close enough.

As a PR stunt Starbucks displayed Twitter messages that used the hashtag #spreadthecheer on a big screen next to an ice rink at the Natural History Museum in London, but forgot to actually monitor what was being posted.

Coming hot on the heels of the scandal over Starbucks’ UK taxes, the wall unsurprisingly became a prime target for angry taxpayers…

HMV forgets who has access to its Twitter feed

HMV’s mistake wasn’t that it accidentally tweeted something offensive, but that it forgot who held the keys to its Twitter feed.

The troubled retailer was forced to layoff thousands of staff after going into administration earlier this year, which obviously annoyed a lot of its employees.

One of them then decided to take out their anger by live tweeting a meeting with HR where 60 staff members were informed that they were being sacked.

Using the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring the employee first announced that a “mass execution” was taking place, before revealing that the marketing director had a limited knowledge of social media and that the Twitter account was initially established by an unpaid intern.

Thanks to Gizmodo for the screenshot…