5 Lessons Learned From the Worst Social Media Disasters

Organizations who have fantastically failed on social media know first hand that an untactful tweet is like chumming shark-infested waters. Once an audience gets a whiff of a social media blunder, the frenzy begins – and it’s often nearly impossible to stop. We’ve researched a few of the absolute worst social disasters of all time, and pulled the lessons anyone and everyone who has any sort of profile can learn from them.

1.Research your hashtags.

A properly used hashtag pays off in connecting your brand with the right audience and helping you contribute online conversations… “used properly” being the important words here.

Worst Social Media Disaster

Unfortunately, #WhyIStayed had gained traction after the infamous video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé Janay Palmer in an elevator was leaked. When Palmer began to receive criticism for not leaving the relationship, thousands of domestic abusive victims took to Twitter to share their experience and why they didn’t immediately leave their abusive relationships. In the midst of millions of tweets addressing domestic abuse, a trivializing post about pizza wasn’t appreciated. DiGiorno experienced a huge backlash of complaints from rightfully upset people – all because no one bothered to do a quick search on #WhyIStayed, which takes a matter of seconds.

2.Fact check. Fact check. Fact check. Then proofread.

After USA beat Ghana in the 2014 Men’s World Cup, Delta Airlines decided to congratulate the team
by tweeting:

Worst Social Media Disasters

The problem lies in the fact that there are no giraffes in Ghana. On top of the original error, which made the offensive assumption the entire continent of Africa is full of lions, giraffes and cheetahs, the airline misspelled “previous” in its apology tweet, resulting in this message:

Worst Social Media Disasters

Social media moves fast, but not so fast that account managers can’t do a little fact checking before posting, or proofreading. Take the time to actually research content and carefully craft messages. Trust us, the extra five minutes is worth it.

3. Think about everything that could possibly go wrong.

Snark is never in short supply in the social media world, and while we don’t want to turn everyone into complete pessimists, it’s necessary to think like your worst critic when creating content, especially for big campaign efforts. Just ask McDonald’s – the restaurant has rolled out hashtag campaigns that have trended for all the wrong reasons twice. Back in 2012, the restaurant launched a campaign around #McDStories, asking people to use the hashtag along with fond McDonald’s experiences and stories. Social media users ran with the campaign… in the totally wrong direction. Within two hours the hashtag was so saturated with negative stories about the company that McDonald’s canceled all promotion efforts.

Worst Social Media Disasters

In 2014, McDonald’s decided to try another social media campaign, this time focused on long-time mascot, Ronald McDonald. The restaurant account began tweeting as if Ronald himself was writing the posts, adding #RonaldMcDonald to the end of each post.

Worst Social Media Disasters

The bashing of Mr. McDonald that ensued wasn’t exactly what the restaurant had in mind… but that’s the thing about social media. Whatever you have “in mind” could change once you release your content out into the world. Hashtags, posts and other content have a way of taking on a life of their own, so realistically think about what your harshest critics could do with your content, because they could try to turn it against you.

4. Don’t force it.

When a topic is absolutely blowing up on social media, we understand the desire to join in on the conversation and get your name seen by millions of people. But if the topic has nothing to do with your brand, and you don’t have anything of value to contribute, leave it alone. At the very least, your post will look contrived and your brand will lose some of its credibility. At the worst, you’ll pull the same stunt as Epicurious – an online food publication – that decided these two tweets were appropriate to post in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing:

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The tweet says “Boston, our hearts are with you” but the message behind it is “I’m not below piggybacking on a major tragedy to get more website traffic.” It’s unbecoming, to say the least. Brands that are successful on social media find their unique voice and establish themselves as experts in their niche, then post useful information for readers to build an authentic following.

5. Steer clear of politics… and make sure you’re logged into the right account.

Unless you are building the brand of a political or religious organization, avoid overtly political or religious posts. Not to say you shouldn’t be true to who you are or the core of what you want your brand to be, but your followers want to information about the subject you are a known expert on. They don’t want political or religious guidance from you if you haven’t built the proper online credibility to speak on such topics. KitchenAid knows this all too well, as the company was bombarded by thousands of disgusted tweets due to this post:

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Pretty awful right? It turned out the social media manager thought he/she was posting to a personal account and accidentally tweeted the message from KitchenAid instead. Even if it was meant for a personal account, the message is still mean, untactful and we’re surprised anyone who makes a living writing social media would post this anywhere at all.

That’s our five lessons we’ve learned from the worst social media disasters. If you have any other lessons or disasters you think we missed, let us know in the comments or by tweeting @EXITMarketing. Next week, we’ll hit a higher note with five lessons we’ve learned from the best social media wins.

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