Social Media Fails: The Worst Case Studies

It’s good to learn from other people’s mistakes — so we don’t end up making them ourselves! In today’s post, you’ll see some of the worst social media failures, and what we can learn from them. Take notes!

Social media is a constantly evolving process, with no formula set for a perfect campaign. While cheap, far-reaching, and sharable, social media is not without its potential downfalls. Unfortunately, many individuals and companies are learning this the hard way. Take a tip from the following failures, and make sure that your company learns from the mistakes of the following examples:

McDonald’s #McDStories

In mid-January, McDonalds launched a Twitter campaign involved the hashtag #McDStories, asking users to post nostalgic stories on Happy Meals. However, this campaign quickly took a whole different meaning, as users would use the hashtag to share horror experiences and shock tales. From poor work conditions to appalling food quality, McDonald’s campaign turned negative attention back to itself.

The Takeaway:

Social media campaigns always contain a measure of risk, where perception from users cannot be controlled. McDonald’s suffered from this, with the hijacking of their hashtag campaign. While companies, to some degree, can attempt to anticipate reaction from customers, at times it is simply impossible. In general, companies need to prepare contingency plans, and have a strategy for when social media fails.

Woody Harrelson’s AMA

On February 3, 2012, Woody Harrelson hosted a Reddit AMA, where users can ask questions to individuals who have a unique story or occupation. While AMAs are generally used to promote thoughtful dialogue and discussion, Harrelson’s AMA took a different approach. Reddit users quickly got the impression that the movie star was simply using the site for marketing purposes, and lashed out. Immense backlash was fired against Harrelson, his publicists and his upcoming movie, and Harrelson became infamous in Reddit history.

The Takeaway:

The main reason why this campaign failed so spectacularly is because of Harrelson’s failure to understand his audience. Reddit, a social news website, possesses a dedicated audience that is sensitive towards marketing attempts.  With AMA threads, users expect an honest dialogue, providing an open forum between the host and the audience. When using a social media platform, it is vital that you carefully understand the community and how they work.

Chris Brown’s Post-Grammy Tweets

One of the winners of the 2012 Grammys was R&B singer Chris Brown, who won an award for Best R&B album. After the Grammys, Chris Brown celebrated his victory on Twitter, sending out tweets to his followers. But instead of thanking them for their support, he instead focused his updates towards his haters, bashing them with disparaging remarks and F-bombs. Given the singer’s already shaky reputation, these tweets have further solidified the controversy around him.

The Takeaway:

Given the shareable nature of social media, public perception and reputation can change at the drop of a hat. A single tweet can quickly spread to others, whether it is good or bad. By posting such remarks, Chris Brown turns fans against him and have them commenting on his temperamental nature. While Chris Brown has recently stated that the tweets were made by one of his entourage, the negative effects of the online outbursts still remain.

Toyota’s #CamryEffect Campaign

During the Superbowl, Toyota planned a major Twitter campaign meant to promote the Camry. Creating a number of Twitter accounts labeled @CamryEffect1 through @CamryEffect9, Toyota intended to engage users by directly tweeting them. However, this had the opposite effect: users accused Toyota of bombarding and spamming them with unsolicited messages. Though Toyota quickly suspended the accounts, this campaign still resonates as an example of a failed, large-scale endeavor.

The Takeaway:

In Toyota’s case, mass spamming was not the main problem, though it definitely added to their woes. Instead, it was the content itself that caused the uproar. In order to engage users, tweets need to be interesting and intriguing, motivating users to retweet the message. However, the content used in the #CamryEffect campaign gave a self-serving and promotional impression The bland, spammed messages and poor timing became a recipe for disaster for the major automobile company.

What lessons have you learned from these social media fiascos, that you will apply in your own social media and PR efforts? Do you know of any other bombs that we can learn about?