Social media can be a dangerous place. One wrong tweet can start a chain reaction of disgust, concern, or even hatred directed at your brand, and once that post is public—there’s nothing you can do to erase the fact that it happened.
2014 was a great year for social media marketers, with brand-new platforms and a still-growing audience of users on every major channel, but it was also a year filled with unfortunate mistakes by some major brands.
Take a look at some of the worst social media blunders we witnessed in 2014, and learn from them so you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the coming year:
If you were paying close attention to Twitter in 2014, you no doubt saw or heard about the embarrassing gaffe made by U.S. Airways back in April. The company tweeted a pornographic photo for the masses to see—and even though they took it down almost immediately, the image was captured and re-shared by the masses, making U.S. Airways the subject of revulsion and mockery for days.
The reason for the error was innocent enough. A fan had tweeted the photo to the company, and a social manager accidentally copied the URL to that photo instead of a URL he/she intended to tweet. It’s a mistake anybody could have made, but it’s also a mistake that anybody could have caught—if they were checking the links of their posts before posting. Take this as a lesson in proofreading; even if you’re confident in your abilities, double check the accuracy of each of your links before posting them.
During the World Series MVP Award for 2014, a Chevy spokesman mentioned that the Chevy Colorado “combines class winning and leading, um, you know, technology and stuff.” Ordinarily, a mistake like this is bound to be exploited, leading thousands to social media to mock the spokesman and berate the brand.
However, Chevy was a step ahead of the game. They took ownership of the mistake and flaunted it rather than trying to ignore it. They tweeted a picture of the vehicle with a caption that read “You know… class leading technology and stuff.” The image was a hit, getting shared thousands of times, and spawning the emergence of two trending hashtags, including #chevyguy. This is an example of how to take a mistake and prevent it from escalating negatively—take ownership of it, and don’t be afraid to humanize your brand. It worked out well for Chevy.
Ordinarily, celebrity endorsements are valuable. So valuable that companies are willing to pay celebrities millions in order to say some kind words about the brand. When Apple started fishing for celebrity endorsements for the iPhone 6, nothing was out of the ordinary.
However, Apple accidentally published a post featuring praise from Joan Rivers, only a short time after her death in 2014. Clearly a mistake, it was later revealed that the post was scheduled far in advance, and wasn’t removed in a timely manner. The offending post was quickly removed when the error was realized, but the damage was already done. Take this as a lesson in placing too much trust in your post scheduler. These scheduling tools can be very useful, but “setting and forgetting” can be dangerous. Be sure to check your post queues regularly and weed out any posts that may no longer be appropriate.
The problem came in 2014 when the Facebook app allowed access to the phone’s built-in camera, without explicitly asking for user permission. When users discovered this, the blowback was enormous, and Facebook had some serious apologizing to do. If they would have disclosed this default setting upfront with their users, the negativity of the situation could have been mostly—if not completely—avoided. Users value and demand openness from their favored brands.
DiGiorno made a seemingly innocent mistake that cost them a great deal of respect in their social community. Without knowing the story behind the hashtag #WhyIStayed, DiGiorno’s tweet “#WhyIStayed You had pizza” seems like a clever way for a brand to use a popular hashtag to engage with its readers.
However, DiGiorno failed to research the hashtag before they started using it for their own gain. In reality, the hashtag was used by victims of domestic abuse to raise awareness on the issue and provide support to others in abusive relationships. Using this sensitive hashtag for a promotion incited a serious and understandable backlash from the community. Fortunately, DiGiorno recovered tactfully. They fully acknowledged their mistake, explained the reasons why it was made, and made a personal apology to anyone who expressed their anger, frustration, or disappointment toward the brand. While some of the damage was likely permanent, DiGiorno’s sensitivity to the situation prevented it from getting any worse.
The United States played Ghana in the World Cup, and in an effort to gain some visibility from the showdown, Delta Airlines promoted an image intended to represent the match. The United States, appropriately, was represented by the Statue of Liberty. For Ghana, they chose a giraffe. There was only one problem: Ghana doesn’t have a native giraffe population, and is not commonly associated with the animal in any way.
The key lesson here is to do your research before posting. One person’s assumption that there were giraffes in Ghana led to an embarrassment that affected the entire brand. Even if you’re confident in your assumptions, do a quick search to make sure that you’re right.
The fast-paced nature and immediate public scrutiny of social media make it difficult to get involved with the medium and never make a mistake. As a social media manager, it is almost a guarantee that you’ll send out something erroneously or carelessly—but you still need to learn from the mistakes of others.
Take the time to review your information before sending it out—that means doing research to make sure your facts are accurate, double checking to make sure your assumptions are correct, and proofreading to ensure you haven’t made an egregious error after copying and pasting. That also means checking your schedule queue multiple times to ensure the relevance and appropriateness of your coming posts.
In the event that you do make a major mistake, the best thing you can do is be open and honest about it. Delete the post immediately if it is offensive, but don’t try to hide the fact that you made a mistake. Apologize publicly, and address your audience’s concerns individually and personally; it may take some time, but it is possible to restore your reputation and earn the forgiveness of your fans.