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What We Learned From These 15 Epic Social Media Fails

Before your work on your social media campaign, here are fifteen social media fails from 2014 and what we learned as a result.

Lessons From These 15 Epic Social Media Fails | SEJ

According to Statista, the number of worldwide social media users grew to approximately 1.8 billion users. Over the next several years, that number is expected to balloon to almost 2.5 billion users. Furthermore, it was found that users in the United States alone spent 121.8 billion monthly minutes on social media.

While this is great news for brands – since there’s a ton of market potential and opportunities for customer engagement – it also presents another challenge for brands. Preventing any sort of mistakes that could result in a PR nightmare, which are still a common occurrence for some reason.

shutterstock_101299735Image via Shutterstock

As you continue to plan your social media strategy for the rest of 2015, here’s a look back at fifteen social media fails from the last year and what we learned as a result.

1. US Airways is NSFW

You probably recall, or hopefully repressed, that incident back in April 2014 when US Airways tweeted an extremely NSFW image when responding to a customer named Elle. What’s even more disturbing is that the image wasn’t removed until almost an hour later – which was way more than enough time for the incident to spread to every corner of the internet.

Despite the apology and the promise of an investigation from the company, the damage was already done. Some images will stay with you the rest of your life.

Lesson Learned

We’re all human and make mistakes. So, instead of sending out an inappropriate tweet, Facebook status, etc., make sure that it goes through an approval system before it goes live. Software from Social Instinct, Social SignIn, Crowd Control HQ,  or CDS could be used to notify editors or senior members of all social media messages  that are going to be sent out.

2. DiGiorno #WhyIStayed

We’ve given DiGiorno a lot of credit in the past for being engaging and quick-witted on social media. However, the frozen pizza market had a major slip back in September.

It began in response to the disturbing video of Ray Rice and his then-fiance Janay Palmer. Women who had been involved in abusive relationships turned to Twitter to share and discuss their experiences by using the #WhyIStayed hashtag. Attempting to jump in on the popular hashtag, DiGiornio tweeted  “#whyistayed You had pizza.”

Lesson Learned

We’ve seen this happen before. A brand jumps in on a trending hashtag without knowing the context of that hashtag. Hopefully, more brands will take the extra couple of minutes to do some research before capitalizing on a popular hashtag.

Even though DiGiono made a huge mistake, at least the brand owned up to the mishap and personally responded to Twitter users.

3. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Edition

We all know how important of a figure Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was during the Civil Rights movement. But, does that mean we have to celebrate his life by shamelessly plugging products, services, or causes?

I was initially going to just mention Zzzquil’s “Today is the day for dreaming. Happy MLK Day” tweet. However, there were a number of brands who also made the same mistake. For example, PETA tastelessly compared animal and civil rights. And, there were even companies offering discounts off of their next purchase.

Lesson Learned

While tying into a holiday or special occasion is a simple and effective marketing technique, your social media updates shouldn’t have to be a part of every holiday or special event. Certain celebrations, such as Martin Luther King Day, are not the time or place to promote your brand or cause.

4. New England Patriots Twitter Fail

This was a great idea in theory. The New England Patriots wanted to thank their followers who helped make them the first NFL team to have one million followers. Unfortunately, the automated system in place thanking fans named a Twitter user with an extremely offensive name. Of course, the Twittersphere had a field day and the team apologized.

Lesson Learned

While it may be difficult to go through each and every tweet, you can’t always rely on an automated filtering system.

5. Apple Proves There’s Life After Death

This may not exactly be all of Apple’s fault, but they did have part to play in this PR mishap. In a pre-negotiated deal, comedian Joan Rivers promoted the iPhone 6 on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. The problem? The scheduled posts went live nearly two weeks after Rivers passed away.

Even though the messages were quickly deleted, there was still enough time for people to grab screenshots of the posts and have some fun at the expense of Apple.

Lesson Learned

While scheduling social media updates is a great way to stay organized and lessen your daily workload, make sure that you update your accounts when needed. So, when Rivers passed away, her accounts should have been updated so pre-scheduled messages were deleted.

6. Bill Cosby’s Meme Fail

Bill Cosby posted a number of images of himself and then invited Twitter users to meme him. At roughly the same time, the rape allegations that Cosby has been accused of in the past came back to the forefront after a stand-up set from Hannibal Buress.

The result?

Twitter users created memes that focused on the allegations and not the lighthearted memes that Cosby’s marketers were anticipating.

Lesson Learned

When you invite people to “meme” you, or share their stories with your brand, you can expect some negative feedback. When you are dealing with a reputation issue, it may not be the best time to invite social media users to bring these issues even more attention.

7. NYPD Black & Blue

Back in April 2014 the New York City Police Department thought it would engage citizens by launching a campaign titled  #myNYPD. The idea was to have people share photos of themselves with friendly police officers. Instead, the campaign was overrun by images of police brutality during the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Having not learned a lesson the first time, the department attempted to win back trust through social media following the decision to not indict the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in December. Instead, the police department failed yet again on Twitter.

Lesson Learned

That “fool me once” statement seems to come to mind.

8. There are No Giraffes in Ghana

The World Cup dominated social media in June 2014. So, can you blame brands for wanting to get in on the fun? No. However, when Delta tweeted a photo of a Giraffe to represent Ghana, the airline received some much deserved backlash. Why? Because there are no giraffes in Ghana.

To make matters worse, when Delta issued its first apologize, “We’re sorry for our choice of photo in our previous tweet. Best of luck to all teams,” they accidentally used the word precious instead of previous.

Lesson Learned

Again, taking the extra time to fact check or do a little research can prevent a PR nightmare.

9. Is JC Penney Drunk?

During Super Bowl XLVIII it was assumed that whoever was running the Twitter account for JC Penney was enjoying the game a little too much after there were several incoherent tweets. After about an hour, it was revealed that the typos were part of a marketing campaign to sell Team USA mittens for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics.

Lesson Learned

I’ll be honest. This wasn’t a complete failure for the brand. It managed to get social media talking and even engaged other brands – Snickers, Kia, and Doritos all made jabs. Considering how much money brands spend on Super Bowl commercials, this was a pretty clever move on the part of JC Penney.

However, people weren’t really impressed with the idea of the “mitten” tweets and retweets dropped significantly. Furthermore, the quick-witted responses from other brands also took away some of the spotlight from JC Penney.

10. LG Mocks Apple by Using an iPhone

When the iPhone 6 was released in September there were reports that the latest Apple smart phone could bend if it was in a pair of tight pants. Since LG manufactures the GFlex, a phone that is already-bent, it was a perfect situation for LG to take a jab at Apple.

The French arm of LG sent out the following tweet: “Our phones don’t bend, they’re naturally curved 🙂 #bendgate.” Yeah. That was a good one. Until you notice that the tweet had been sent from an iPhone.

Lesson Learned

Chances are that LG had hired an outside agency to handle its social media presence. Even if that wasn’t the case, you probably shouldn’t mock a rival while using their product.

11. People Magazine’s Live Tweet Fiasco

During the premiere of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” People Magazine opted to live-tweet the event. Whoever was in charge of the account believed that it was a good idea to compare actress Viola Davis’ character on the show as her character Aibileen Clark from “The Help.”

Clearly this wasn’t a hit with fans of social media who called the tweets offensive and racist. People’s only move was to delete the tweet.

Lesson Learned

I get what People was trying to do – even if it wasn’t the brightest of ideas. It’s common to see actors and actresses as only certain characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate in public discussion.

12. Build-a-Bear’s September 11th Tweet

On September 11th Build-a-Bear tweeted “We will never forget. #911anniversary.” How long did it take Build-a-Bear to realize that marketing teddy bears on a sensitive occasion like September 11th was a bad idea? 15 minutes.

Lesson Learned

Buzzfeed summed this up perfectly: “Brands, repeat after me: You probably don’t need to post about 9/11.”

13. The Dignity Project Isn’t So Dignified

When Harry Potter author JK Rowling donated money to pro-UK campaign ‘Better Together’, a Scottish-charity group wasn’t too thrilled. The Edinburgh-based charity Dignity Project, which raises funds for educational aid in Africa, tweeted the following in response: “What a #bitch after we gave her shelter in our city when she was a single mum.”

The thing is, the charity group had it’s Twitter account hacked and weren’t responsible for the tweet.

Lesson Learned

It doesn’t matter the size of your business, hacking happens. That’s why your business should have strict security precautions – such as trusting the right employees and frequently changing passwords.

14. Cheesie’s Pub & Grub “Knockout Deal”

Cheesie’s Pub & Grub decided to have some fun with the Ray Rice in situation in September by tweeting  “TINDER TUESDAY = 20% off tabs! It’s a knockout deal… we’re calling it Ray Rice ;-)”

The offensive tweet was deleted and the Chicago eatery not only offered an apology, it also blamed the tweet on a disgruntled ex-employee.

Lesson Learned

Besides the obvious – attempting to be witty with a serious story making headlines – there was the fact that this business put its trust in an employee they couldn’t trust. And, as Chicagoist asks, “Why didn’t management change the passwords to the account?”

15. Dave & Buster’s Hates Taco Tuesdays

In order to promote Taco Tuesdays, Dave & Buster’s thought it would be clever by sharing this pun on Twitter; “‘I hate tacos’ said no Juan ever.”

Less than an hour later Dave & Buster’s removed the tweet and issued an apology, since obviously people were offended by the generalization.

Lesson Learned

Stereotypes and generalizations are never a good idea for a brand to discuss on social media. In fact, you don’t have to go anywhere near this topic. shared examples of effective and safe ways to promote Taco Tuesday, like “#tacotuesday at Firehouse Chefs Food and Drink! 1.00 Tacos, Great Drink & Food Specials tonight!”

What social media fail was especially cringe-worthy for you this year?


Featured Image via Shutterstock

Category Social Media
Albert Costill Writer

Albert Costill is a co-founder of and a freelance writer who has written for brands like and Search ...

What We Learned From These 15 Epic Social Media Fails

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