How Not to be an #EPIC Social Media Fail

Alright, we all know which brands are nailing it when it comes to social media. I’m lookin’ at you Uber, BuzzFeed, Seattle PrideFest, Oreo, Nike, NO H8, and Coca Cola. These names represent a variety of businesses, brands and events. But despite their differences, every one of these companies has achieved great success by being social savants. Whether they are effectively using hashtags or finding the perfect photo to encapsulate their product, these are brands that harness the power of social media.

But, alas, the point of this article is not to talk about what companies do right (what’s the fun and shame in that?). I am here to highlight some of the biggest fails, flops, and social media disasters that have resulted in adverse consequences, even for some very big names.

While it would be entertaining to simply point and laugh at these poor, unfortunate social souls, I want to take their less-than-successful attempts and identify why they didn’t work and what they could (should) have done.

Example 1: Epic Tweet Fail

Now, while I am a social media professional, I’m pretty humble:  I don’t claim to be an “expert.” This fact, however, further proves my point ­­– it does not take an “expert” to spot the “what not to do.”

Justine Sacco Tweet Fail

Let’s take the Justine Sacco case as an example. Needless to say, this PR exec (yep, you heard me…her entire job is telling other people how NOT to do things like this) was fired before her plane landed in South Africa.

Twitter is real, folks. Other people can and will see what you write and it will get retweeted. This is typically the goal and what people strive to achieve: the ever elusive retweet. Be especially mindful of this when you represent a company. In this case, getting noticed by Buzzfeed is what shot her now infamous tweet to stardom.

While there is no light to shed on this situation or any possible improvements that can be made (other than don’t say heartless, racist things), there is somewhat of a silver lining to this thoughtless incident. The clichéd expression “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” applies to this situation, as one savvy interwebber set to redirect to the non-profit group, As a result, the group has seen an impressive increase in donations, jumping to 3/hour as opposed to 3/day. Sorry, Justine, your handiwork was a lose/lose for you but a win/win for good Samaritans and people trying to make the social world a better place.

Example 2: #EpicHashtagFail

Hashtags are an ideal way to group Tweets and track discussion topics through keywords. They are integral to success on Twitter, and have recently been adopted by Facebook and Google+ as well. You can now unify cross-network promotions and prompt participation from multiple networks to improve reach and shares. They are intended to drive conversation and connect people with similar interests. Sounds great, right? What could possibly go wrong?

With great hashtags comes great responsibility. You must think through all of the implications of using a hashtag campaign and consider all of the possibilities and ways that it can fail before implimentation. Your hashtag must have context and add value for your followers. Failure to consider these will surely lead your hashtag to fade away into the Twitterverse and be forgotten faster than DrawSomething (yeah, remember that great app?). Or worse, it may lead to a PR nightmare as exemplified by McDonald’s.

Although potentially one of the most notorious hashtag marketing fails, McDonalds’ #McDStories campaign taught us all an invaluable Twitter lesson. Last January, McDonald’s launched their campaign with the comically vague #McDStories. They intended to receive stories of people’s favorite foods or how much their children love Happy Meals. What they got was, in fact, the opposite. People hijacked the hashtag and applied it to McDonalds horror stories.


McDonald’s ended up pulling the campaign within two hours of launching it. That didn’t stop the people from continuing to post with the branded hashtag.

The company did the right thing by simply ending their campaign early and not responding negatively to their Twitter trolls. Instead, they took responsibility for their mistake (communicated via Twitter, of course) and owned up to realizing that they should have been more thorough in their consideration of the hashtag.

McDonald’s lesson on vague hashtag campaigns can be considered a cautionary tale for us all. Be sure to really think a hashtag through before launching it. If considering a branded campaign, realize the potential it has to go viral and what that can and will do for your company, both good and bad: and accept that once you launch the campaign, the audience controls it – not your brand.

Example 3: Epic Facebook Meltdown

Our social bff, Facebook, is capable of creating a strong presence for a brand or business within the social realm. With photos and posts clearly visible on the profile page, people often look to Facebook when researching a company. That is why it is absolutely crucial to remain positive and supportive of your followers, and not attack them when they may leave a less-than-ideal review.

The prime example of a company not following through on this key objective can be found in the complete meltdown of Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro. After receiving bad reviews following the airing of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (in which the owners were dropped by Ramsey after being “too difficult to work with”) the two owners took to Facebook to “defend” themselves and their restaurant. Now, I am not saying that explaining your company’s practice on Facebook is always a bad idea, but it is ALWAYS a bad idea to fire back at your followers with nasty, hateful comments (a lot of which don’t even make logical or grammatical sense).


Facebook should be a platform on which your brand can address issues raised by the public, but done so respectfully. The inevitable happened for Amy’s Bistro: they lost A LOT of social followers as well as previously faithful fans of the restaurant itself. There is no quicker way to ruin your company’s name than to fail to take responsibility for your actions, and then top it off by placing blame on your fans and followers.

Clearly, the lesson learned is to keep your cool when responding to negative feedback. It does not make sense to fight fire with fire, but instead to try and come to a reasonable solution, or at the very least be respectful.

The Takeaway

Social media, while relatively new, holds a lot of power in the marketing world. It has the ability to make or, as we have now seen, break a brand. When a brand abuses the power of social media, it more often than not comes back to bite them. So please, let these epic fails show you what NOT to do and try not to learn from experience. Use good judgment when posting and always ask for at least a second opinion. And don’t ever be embarrassed to ask for help. Social media is a new field, and the only constant is change. Building a list of trusted resources you can call for help is critical.

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