The calendar year wouldn’t be complete without a few social media fails.
In 2012, plenty of big brands and organizations suffered serious backlashes on social networks like Twitter andFacebook for offensive tweets, questionable ad campaigns or controversial company statements. Some, like McDonald’s, attempted good-natured social media campaigns that simply took unexpected turns. Others, like StubHub’s and KitchenAid’s Twitter accounts mistakenly send out shocking tweets.
If there’s one lesson to take away from this year’s fails, it’s that brands need to be particularly careful when it comes to tying a promotion or post to a big, public event. Several of the businesses on our list were heavily criticized for posts relating to the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, for example.
Back in January, McDonald’s tried to promote its brand and engage with customers through two promoted trends: #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.
Unfortunately for McDonald’s, many Twitter users decided to post their horror stories at the fast food chain using the second of those hashtags. In essence, McDonald’s paid to promote a trend that showered the company in bad publicity. McDonald’s later admitted that “#mcdstories did not go as planned.”
Early this year, Snickers paid several celebs in the UK to tweet pictures of themselves eating Snickers bars.
The ad campaign didn’t sit well with the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, which requires companies to explicitly spell out when a product is being endorsed. The OFT launched an investigation into the Twitter ads, but eventually cleared Snickers of wrongdoing.
Talk about bad timing. American Rifleman, a journal affiliated with the National Rifle Association, posted a pro-gun tweet as the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. was unfolding.
The tweet itself appeared to have been pre-scheduled through Hootsuite, but needless to say, it struck a nerve. The tweet was deleted several hours later and the account was deleted later that day, as well.
The NRA wasn’t the only organization to ignite a firestorm on Twitter following the Aurora shooting. CelebBoutique, an online store, posted a promotional tweet with the Aurora hashtag to take advantage of a trending topic. Unfortunately, the company’s PR apparently did not take the time to read up on why Aurora was trending, so the tweet came off as incredibly insensitive.
Chick-Fil-A endured two back-to-back social media controversies in the middle of 2012. The first and arguably more serious of the two emerged after the company’s founder spoke out firmly against same-sex marriage. Critics blasted Chick-Fil-A on various social networks, and the company’s Facebook page was briefly taken over by posts that had nothing to do with chicken.
Shortly afterwards, Chick-Fil-A was accused of creating a fake Facebook account to come to the company’s defense. This time, it pertained to a related controversy: whether a particular Chick-Fil-A location had recalled Jim Hensen’s Creature Shop Puppet toys after Hensen’s organization came out against Chick-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage. Chick-Fil-A later denied that it created the account.
Microsoft briefly got political in September, when one of the people who manages its Twitter account dissed conservative talking head Ann Coulter from the Microsoft account, rather than from his personal account. Microsoft replied to a tweet from former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich with the following post: “@RBReich your granddaughter’s level of discourse and policy > those of Ann Coulter.” Ouch.
When it comes to offensive tweets, KitchenAid takes the cake. After President Obama mentioned his grandmother during the first presidential debate in October, the kitchen appliance manufacturer responded by posting the following tweet to its 24,000 followers: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president. #nbcpolitics”
To the company’s credit, it quickly removed the tweet and issued an apology, explaining that a member of the KitchenAid team had mistakenly posted it from the company account instead of from a personal handle.
Shortly after the KitchenAid incident, StubHub had its own social media snafu. Someone posted a vulgar tweet from StubHub’s account, calling the ticket sales website a “stubsucking hell hole.” The tweet was up for about an hour before the company finally deleted it and issued an apology. It’s unclear whether the tweet came from an unhappy StubHub employee or if the account was hacked.
Word to the wise: Think twice before you try to turn a natural disaster into a promotional opportunity. American Apparel offered 20% off for those in states affected by Hurricane Sandy, in case they were “bored” by the storm. Customers quickly took to Twitter and other social networks to criticize the ad.
American Apparel wasn’t the only retailer to frustrate those affected by Hurricane Sandy. As the storm made its way up the East Coast, The Gap seemed to encourage those hunkering down for the storm to do some online shopping. The company eventually took down the tweet and offered a semi-apology.
Earlier this month, Macy’s was pressured to drop spokesman Donald Trump after Trump’s publicity stunt, in which he offered to donate $5 million in exchange for President Obama’s college records and passport application.
More than half a million people signed an online petition asking Macy’s to sever its relationship with Trump, and the retailer’s Facebook and Twitter pages were bombarded with anti-Trump comments.