A number of brands have fallen foul of social media over the last few years, either due to lack of understanding of how information spreads online, or by attempting to manipulate the system and getting caught out.

I’ve listed ten examples of companies who have suffered PR nightmares online, in most cases the bad publicity has come via social media sites…

Ryanair

After a blogger criticised a flaw in the airline’s online booking process, staff from the airline left several childish and insulting comments in response to the post. To make matters worse, after the episode was publicised around the web, the company issued a statement saying that ‘it is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot
bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.’

Domino’s

The video showing Domino’s employees adding various unsavoury embellishments to the food they were preparing went viral on YouTube, and was a PR nightmare for the company. The company did what it could by posting a video response on YouTube, though some found the delivery by President Patrick Doyle less than perfect.

Belkin

A Belkin employee was caught red handed offering to pay other Amazon Mechanical Turk users to write positive reviews of one of its products on the site. These reviews were especially unconvincing given the fact that the router in question had several bad reviews already, making the positives stick out like a sore thumb. The paid reviews have since been removed.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey left a bunch of anonymous postings about rival company Wild Oats before being rumbled, causing a great deal of embarrassment for him and his company. Mackey apologised to shareholders afterwards, but the damage was done.

Wal-Mart

The company was outed in 2006 after a blog chronicling a duo’s travels across America while camping in
Wal-Mart car parks turned out to have been the work of PR firm Edelman.

Amazon

After removing books with adult content, including Brokeback Mountain and Lady Chatterly’s Lover, from its bestseller lists, Amazon was subjected to a torrent of bad publicity on Twitter and elsewhere. The company blamed a glitch but didn’t directly respond on Twitter.

Kodak

Kodak recently decided to charge an annual fee for storing photos in its online Gallery, and though it claimed to have emailed everyone concerned, some were clearly surprised when their photos started to vanish. Cue lots of bad publicity for the company on Twitter.

Target

US retailer Target got itself some bad publicity in the New York Times last year after dismissing a complaint from a blogger about one of its ads with the phrase: ‘we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets’.

Just months before, the company was outed for encouraging Facebook users, who were receiving various freebies, to praise the company on the site.

Neal’s Yard

The retailer of organic products pulled out of an online debate as part of The Guardian’s ‘You ask, they answer’ feature. It seems the company didn’t like the quaestion concerning the withdrawall of one of its products last year; a homeopathic remedy for malaria.

As pointed out here, this refusal to enagage is not the way to deal with criticism online, and represents a PR failure for the firm.

ExxonMobil

An example of why companies should own their social media profiles, and monitor sites like Twitter comes from ExxonMobil. Someone calling herself Janet set up an account on the site in the company’s name and managed to fool plenty of people before the account was taken down.