Top 5 Social Media Fails of 2012

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Every experienced social media manager knows that social media can be unpredictable. Sometimes, you expect one kind of response from your social followers, but get something completely different instead. As a result, we have social media campaigns that go viral in the blink of an eye and online campaigns that turn total failures (see the infographic below) and even cause quite a damage to the company’s reputation.

But not everything is unpredictable in this life, of course, and certain conclusions can be drawn from other people’s so called social media fails. Live and learn, as they say!

Social media fails big time

As you see, even big brands are not immune to failures. One might argue that the sheer nature of social media is responsible for this, but, as the examples above show, there are other reasons as well. Would be great to hear your thoughts on this!

Aleh Barysevich

Aleh Barysevich

CMO and Co-Founder at Link-Assistant.Com
Aleh Barysevich is CMO and Co-Founder at Link-Assistant.Com, the company that makes SEO PowerSuite (website promotion toolkit) and BuzzBundle (social media software) for bloggers, webmasters... Read Full Bio
Aleh Barysevich
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  • Nicola Bano

    I would add to this list @pontifex on Twitter…

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Not sure what kind of situation you have in mind. Pope’s presence on Twitter is quite unusual and at times controversial, but generally I’ve heard only positive things.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    These are some of the biggest campaign mistakes, but don’t forget about all the individual mishaps this year (like KitchenAid and the Red Cross). One lonely tweet can cause a social media firestorm if you aren’t careful. Make sure you know who has the keys to your social accounts!

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Thanks for two great examples, Nick! These scandals came as a shock for me too.
      Social Media is unpredictable and cannot be controlled, we can only hope that we pose a nice image in everything we do and our tweets/posts cannot be used used for speculations.

  • Lauren Waters

    I think #3 is the most interesting flop since companies so frequently use this form of engagement! As far as I’ve noticed individuals take issue when companies are looking to get a certain type of response from visitors. Greenpeace benefited from that this year hijacking Shell with “Let’s Go” campaign. Putting up this type of ‘mad-libs’ style post definitely poses a major risk. Companies should have a crisis communications plan in action for when this type of trolling happens. Do you think these posts are even worth it?

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Yes, Waitrose fail is actually the most stunning one for me too, Lauren. I believe nobody could have expected such answers.
      It’s also a very good reminder for all of us that even well-proven methods of encouraging user engagement can go totally wrong and we should be prepared for this.

  • Totio Filipov

    WOW, the Hurricane Sandy one is a biggie. I didn’t believe there are companies that would actually do such a thing… I am truly disgusted.

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Totio, actually this was a very-very dumb move. Companies might earn money on such tragedies but the marketing approach should be totally different, like selling their good to those who suffered, lost their homes during Sandy at reduced prices. This way one can potentially help people and get a positive reputation increase.

  • Mona Sutherland

    Currently I’m the Online Marketing Manager for a big company, and I’m terrified to make one of these mistakes!!!

    I’d like to think I have more tact than #1, and I know spamming is a MAJOR, MAJOR no no if people care about their online reputation, but it’s like you say… Sometimes you never know how people will react, especially since “keyboard warriors” often take over the digital space.

    IMHO, the McDonalds thing flopped because people like to be silly and sarcastic. I can’t imagine they could have foreseen a reaction like that… But, it’s hard cuz you want to get people involved and talking! For example, the Pope had to have known that people were going to Tweet mean things because people are people! It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on Twitter… If you’re willing to open and deal with the can of worms, go for it.

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Mona, your fear is more than understandable! Fortunately none of our Social Media campaigns moved into a wrong direction, but it doesn’t mean we will never fail! This investigation we performed for this infographic helped us reconsider lots of things and re-adjust our SMM plans to avoid major mistakes. Hope that it will also help people like you in their work.

      Spamming is prohibited technique on the web, but I strongly doubt that №5 example (Toyota) were considering their actions to be spammy and sure they did not want to look spammy either. The problem is that we all try to be as creative as possible and invent new methods and approaches that our users are not bored of, and that’s tough.

      To my mind, McDonald’s suffered because their reputation has suffered lots of ups and downs over the years and when you have such a long controversial history, you never know when one of these bad impressions from your customers will come to the surface. Yes, they simply wanted people to get talking in a positive manner, but it failed… you can’t really make people talk what you want them to talk about, Social Media is a truly free society and democratic by nature (maybe even more democratic than most countries in the world!), so we mentioned, one should always have a B plan in case everything goes wrong.

      And as you Mona correctly noticed in your example about the Pope, there will ALWAYS be negative reactions. It’s inescapable. You cannot be liked by everyone and it’s totally normal, some will like what you are doing, some won’t. I guess a Social Media campaign can be considered successful when the total number of those satisfied is way bigger than the number of those disappointed.

  • Nick Borelli

    I think KitchenAid is one that had large Social media implications, premeditated into the general public’s mind, and should have been a wake up call to marketers. Great list!

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Yes, Nick, the tweet one of KitchenAid SMM team members team sent was simply cruel. I would be cruel even if it were about somebody else’s grandmother not Obama’s. Couldn’t even imagine that someone could lack the sense of tact that much.
      Thanks for kind words! Glad you enjoyed the infographic!

  • Jason Brown

    You can not overlook @caseymovers. Sending a threatening letter to sue if a negative yelp review is not removed is the cream of the crop. Plus after the letter was received, the husband conducted his onw investigation in too Casey Movers and it was deemed that they were posting fake reviews on other review sites. A lot of SEO/SEM people shared the story and were sharing the story. Go ahead and google casey movers and look for the 1918 article what transpired. .

    • Aleh Barysevich

      It’s a very good example indeed, Jason! Thanks for mentioning it.
      Messing up with SEO/SEM people was really a disastrous idea, because our community is the one that definitely knows how to make a LOT of buzz on the web.

  • Keyword Name Removed

    The success of social media campaigns is independent of the size of the business using it. Such big failures just goes to show that lack of strategy in using social media for any campaign will bring the house down. That is why it is always advised to use Social Media with a vision and a plan.

    • Aleh Barysevich

      I would partially disagree. I think that most brands here had a strategy in place, but it was a wrong one because sometimes it wasn’t aligned with their general marketing strategy, or because the reputation wasn’t crystal clear from the very beginning, etc. I’d also like to stress out one more time: any plan can go wrong at any moment of time. Social Media doesn’t deal with just one person or a relatively homogeneous unity of people, I mean we try to target only our target audience and widen it if possible, but we can’t really control who sees our message. The point is always to have a retrieve plan, and yes, plan everything carefully beforehand.

  • Jeffry Ng Darwis

    No 1 had it coming . Cashing on disaster was , and still is a stupid course of action . I agree on your ways on different approach . Wonder if guy that came up with the idea got his / her a** fired .

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Jeffry, if he/she is still not fired, that would be the top of stupidity of their management team. Still I am pretty confident that circumstances of their failure made them make the right choice at least in the employment question.

  • Maikeru Sazushima

    To all handling social media accounts (myself included) in behalf of business, large or small, exercise more caution. Hope the companies and outfits (and social media ‘pilots’) mentioned here have all learned their ‘lessons’ on how to fail big-time.

    • Aleh Barysevich

      I bet they have! No one wants a scandal for their business. Thanks for your opinion, Maikeru.