How a Small Social Media Mistake Ended Up Costing These Companies $4.3 Million in Losses

SMS Text

On average, companies can expect to lose about $4.3 million  in global sales because of social media mistakes. But that’s not all: research from Altimeter has shown social media crises are on the rise, year after year. Companies who don’t pay close attention to how they brand themselves online can confuse and even frustrate consumers whose complaints now have the ability to reach millions of people around the world via social media. It’s something to take seriously because a small mistake can lead to big consequences.

Recently, McDonald’s in China had an expired meat scandal that was met with a strong backlash. But to make matters worse, they were hit with a social media disaster when they published the following image on Instagram:


McDonalds Instagram

These comments show McDonald’s made a significant branding mistake by trying to focus on the quality of its food. The McDonald’s brand doesn’t evoke images of organic, healthy food because that’s not what the company provides. Eaters around the world know McDonald’s as a fast dining experience. Had McDonald’s focused on its speediness instead of food quality, it wouldn’t have received such an expensive backlash.

That’s not entirely the Community Manager’s fault. One of the common pitfalls of any organization is that the frontline employees may not understand the brand’s values. That means they end up publishing content that doesn’t well align with McDonald’s core values.

That is one of the biggest reasons why social media crises occur.

Here’s another screenshot of a telecommunications company—Singtel. In an effort to attract more customers, they released statistics on Facebook showing that they have the fastest fibre broadband:


Singtel social mediaSingtel social media

The post was met with harsh comments saying the statistic couldn’t be true. The customers experienced slow speeds frequently, so they didn’t believe Singtel’s statement. Whether the statistic was true or not, their position did not match the market’s perspective, and that caused a lot of resentment.

When your brand isn’t positioned well, or if you do not have a clear persona that reflects your brand’s values, you face the potential of a social media crisis when you post online.

The brands who speak directly to consumers have a very clear brand voice, are aware of their brand values, and have managed to craft messages that reflect those values.

When you think of McDonald’s, you think of speed. Likewise, Apple is known for its design and functionality. 3M is known for its innovation. By reflecting those values in their content, they capture their ideal audience’s attention.


Pret a Manger Facebook PostPret a Manger Facebook Post

Prêt A Manger is a fast food chain based in United Kingdom that strongly stands by giving back to its community. It’s also a leader in environmentally friendly business practices. They have managed to reflect those values clearly throughout their chain stores. Their customers know this as soon as they step into their stores, look at their ads, and see their posts. Because of its clear brand persona, Prêt A Manger has become a successful business on social media.

Not all companies fare as well. Certain brands look as though they are not even reaching out to you. They may seem to be talking to someone else. It is as though they do not want your business. That actually may be true. While consumers choose the products they buy, companies are now choosing their customers. It may seem negative to limit their reach, but it is more important to build profitable relationships by reaching out to the ideal target market instead of trying to appeal to the masses.

Creating a brand persona means humanizing your brand so as to give your fans a more personalised experience. Important things to consider include:

1. Being First

Is your brand a pioneer? If your brand is at the forefront of your industry, use that information as a brand value to communicate with the market. When you are able to reflect that in your brand value, being the first means you can be the leader of your newly created category.

2. Polarity Positioning

Take a look at what makes your business different. Find and use that contrasting point to differentiate yourself. In the fast food empire, most companies offer unhealthy food. However, Subway stepped in with the image of healthy fast food, and it has given them a market group different from the rest.

Another successful example is Apple’s take on building beautiful products, in contrast to IBM’s unattractive exterior (to some).

3. Being the Specialist or Expert

Are you a specialist? Or perhaps you are in a unique field? That may just be the image you want to give to your consumers. Offering expert tips or insider knowledge in your social media content has been proven to generate high share volumes.

4. Bigger vs. Smaller

Is bigger or smaller better? That depends on your business. Television likes to play the big card, boasting bigger screens and better clarity. Other electronics and its accessories prefer to brag being smaller so they are more portable.

5. Faster vs. Slower

People enjoy swift services. If you are known for providing fast services or coming up with new products every other week, you can use that to your advantage to make yourself stand out from your competition.

But, being slow has its perks as well. Some believe slower product releases creates exclusivity – for example, the slow food movement. Many limited item products sell based on that structure.

6. Premium vs. Economical

One can argue that premium goods or luxury goods should sell at a higher price, and economical goods should sell at a higher volume. Depending on the style of your product or services, presenting the correct image can generate higher returns.

7. Heritage vs. Innovation

Heritage and innovation can often be judged from the manufacturing process. The bread industry is a good example. Some prefer the traditional toast found in coffee shops whereas others prefer the new age bread with innovative toppings or ingredients.

With a well-crafted brand persona, your brand can better attract its target market, engage and communicate with customers, and improve sales.

All forms of branding are important. That’s hardly a surprise. What is surprising is many companies don’t know how their brands look to customers. Some don’t seem to understand the brand personalities they have spent years developing. It’s time to take social media seriously, as it is one of the most effective ways to maintain a positive image and keep your customers loyal.


Image Credits

Featured Image: “Social Media Mistake” meme via Imgflip
All screenshots taken September 2014


Marcus Ho
Well-known for radically increasing sales for businesses through social and digital media, Marcus is the co-founder of SocialMetric where he has successfully helped over 300... Read Full Bio
Marcus Ho
Marcus Ho
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Ranjita

    Wow, Great article on branding and social media. i like to read. Become a Brands pioneer has unique advantage and scope of capturing large market as well as profit. Emotion play very important role in marketing of any brand.

    • Definitely Ranjita! I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  • We couldn’t agree more with the importance of social media on businesses today! According to statistics, 74% of shoppers count on social media to help them with their purchase decisions. As the article points out, making a social media mistake can damage a company’s image and cost them millions. However, social media can also be a great tool for businesses to connect with their customers and receive immediate feedback. In the case of negative feedback, businesses should address it respectfully and genuinely to avoid a crisis. The article also has great tips for developing your brand and being consistent with it across social media.

    • Thanks! Yes, it’s a shame that most companies still don’t reply to their customer feedback fast enough on social media. In my next article, I’ll be writing about exactly just that – how to boost customer loyalty through social 😉

  • Nice post Marcus. nice one on the singtel example. 🙂 always good to be reminded that such small mistake could turn out costly 🙂

    • Thanks Terry! Where are you based at? 😀

  • Likewise, Apple is known for its design and functionality. 3M is known for its innovation. By reflecting those values in their content, they capture their ideal audience’s attention.

    • Yup Mahiner. Do you happen to know of any other brands that stand out very strongly for a specific thing?

  • Nice one! That run to London was a good one to learn about Pret, yes? 🙂

  • I can’t say that when I think of McDonalds I think of speed, but they are certainly fast. They have a bit of a reputation management issue as they battle for control of their branding with negative media and groups. But what they are doing well is they are being a part of the conversation. You can ask them anything and they will answer.

    • Hey Shawn, thanks for your comment. Yeah, in Singapore they really go hard on their speed. I remember them doing a campaign where the McDonalds counter will get you your order within 1 minute (and there is a timer). If they take anything longer than a minute, they’ll give you a free ice cream.

  • Matthew Morrison

    Wonderful article Marcus. Really cutting into the issue of businesses marketing themselves as what they think people want rather than what they are.

  • Alissa Hibst

    Thanks for posting this article, Marcus. You provided a great insight into social media without repeating what has been said time and again!

    The second point you made about positioning polarity reminded me of a TEDxTalk by Erika Napoletano which focused on leveraging the concept of being “unpopular.” (

    Great use of examples and tips for getting started with a focused social media strategy!

    • Thanks Alissa! Great video, thanks for sharing! I think most companies think that having a right social media strategy will save or grow their business, but they tend to forget that before they can start seeing sales from social, they need to sort themselves internally first.

      This video by Erika is exactly just that!

  • Bob

    A few negative comments on adverts count as a social media crisis now?

    And, if McDonald’s were hit with a scandal on their meat, of course they’d focus on the quality of their food – what’s illogical about that? Brands as big as that will always get a backlash whenever they post anything, they’re an easy target.

    • Marcus Ho

      It wasnt just a few social media comment, Bob. There were quite a number that happened. I agree with you that the brand should focus on the quality of food after the crisis, but there are more tactful ways to do that. By simply responding in the way they did it, its quite obvious why a backlash has happened