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Top 5 Corporate Social Media Fails
Top 5 Corporate Social Media Fails

Companies know that in the modern world of smartphone-carrying consumers, the most effective way to reach your audience is through social media channels. And while it may seem easy to post on Facebook or Instagram, there are countless times when it has gone horribly – and often hilariously – wrong. So before you hit “post” on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (or Pinterest, Snapchat and more) make sure you put careful thought into your message to avoid a social media disaster that can irrevocably damage your brand.

Here are five of the worst corporate social media fails.

Miracle Mattress posts 9/11 video

Texas mattress company Miracle Mattress created a video in September 2016 advertising a “9/11 Twin Towers Sale” that shows two employees knocking over stacks of mattresses representing the World Trade Centre buildings. In the video, a woman stands in front of two employees, with two stacks of mattresses behind them. “What better way to remember 9/11 than with a Twin Tower sale? ” the woman asks. “Right now you can get any size mattress for a twin price.” After going through a series of mattress sizes available for a twin price, the woman throws her arms out, and the men behind her fall backwards, knocking over the towers of mattresses. The woman then holds her hands to her face and screams, “Oh my God!,” before looking into the camera and saying, “We’ll never forget.”

Linking a sale with a horrific event in the past is a sure-fire way to alienate your customers – really quickly. And thanks to the viral nature of social media, your ill-conceived post will be widely shared, but in the opposite way to which you intended. Posting a sombre message of remembrance on tragic anniversaries may be an appropriate move, but linking it to any sense of levity or a commercial opportunity simply looks like you are trying to profit from others’ loss and will be called out immediately – and angrily – by social media users.

Tip: Avoid using national days of mourning or anniversaries of tragedies to boost sales or promote your brand.
 

American Apparel Mistakes Challenger Explosion for Fireworks

Companies often undervalue the power of social media communication and will delegate the task of social media to the youngest employees of the organisation, who are assumed to have the greatest knowledge of the medium. But this can lead to other problems, as US clothing store American Apparel discovered when an Independence Day tweet went horribly wrong. American Apparel posted an image on July 4, assumed to be of fireworks, with the hashtags #smoke and #clouds. The picture, however, was actually of the Challenger space shuttle exploding, an event in which seven crew members died. While the post was quickly removed and American Apparel issued an apology – explaining that the person responsible for the post was born after the tragedy took place – the gaffe certainly set off the wrong kind of fireworks on social media.

Tip: Check the origin and nature of images shared on social media to avoid damaging mistakes.

JPMorgan #AskJP hashtag

Companies encouraging Twitter users to use corporate hashtags is always an interesting experiment but one that often backfires. Wall Street bank JP Morgan found itself at the centre of a social media storm in 2013 after it invited Twitter users to send questions to an executive using the hashtag #AskJPM. The Twitterverse responded with a storm of abuse. The reason? The bank had been in the spotlight over its $US13 billion settlement for mis-selling mortgage-backed securities and the $US6 billion London Whale trading losses.

According to social media tracking service Topsy, more than 8000 responses were sent within a six-hour period, and two out of every three comments sent were negative.

Abusive tweets included: “Quick! You’re in a room with no key, a chair, two paper clips, and a light bulb. How do you defraud investors?” and “#askjpm Is it easier to purchase a congressional representative or a senator?”

Tip: If your organisation has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, encouraging people to interact online can create a viral hashtag that highlights problems within your company.

Twitter shouts itself hoarse at Tesco

UK’s leading supermarket Tesco was embroiled in a horse meat scandal in 2013, when foods advertised as containing beef were found to contain horse meat. If this wasn’t bad enough, Tesco compounded the problem by failing to update its auto-tweets in light of the unfolding drama. One pre-scheduled tweet read: “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay. See you at 8 am for more #TescoTweets.” The unfortunate post incited angry tweets from thousands of users, who resented the company’s perceived flippancy to the problem. @UKTesco later responded: “I’m terribly sorry. That tweet was scheduled before we knew of the current situation. We’d never intend to make light of it.” The next day, Tesco placed full-page adverts in several national newspapers to apologise for the “unacceptable” situation, vowing to ensure it “never happens again”.

Tip: To avoid having to apologise for ill-timed and insensitive tweets, ensure pre-scheduled messages are regularly checked to make sure they do not inadvertently hit a raw nerve in the public consciousness.
 

Microsoft Twitter Bot

Possibly the most infamous and hilarious social media fail in internet history occurred when tech giant Microsoft decided to create an artificial intelligence Twitter bot, in the guise of a teenage girl named Tay, that was designed to learn from its users through conversation. While this could have been a remarkable scientific achievement in machine learning, it revealed more about the culture of the internet and perhaps humankind itself. Microsoft completely underestimated the incredibly perverse nature of many Twitter users, who within a day had taught the bot to utter shockingly racist and sexist rants, tweeting out things like “We’re going to build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it”, as well as references to Nazis, incest and the Holocaust. As a result, Microsoft's research team quickly deleted the tweets and put the project on pause.

Tip: Never underestimate the power of human social media users to make trouble for your company’s social media strategies.

Key Takeaways

While these stories may be amusing anecdotes, they also provide good lessons in using social media. These are some of the most important:

Proofread everything. It only takes a minute or two, especially on short-form platforms such as Twitter. Make sure you double-check your spelling, wording and any media you’ve attached to your post before sending it out.

Check your facts. Social media is a conversational platform, but being caught lying or stating something ignorant can come back to haunt you. If you’re in doubt, check and double-check your facts.

Be prepared for attacks and exploits. Assume you’re going to be trolled by social media users, that way, you’ll always be prepared for the worst.

Understand hashtags before using them. Hashtags can be a powerful way to get extra visibility for your post, but only if you’re using them properly. Check to ensure the hashtags you’re using are not going to take your campaign off the rails.

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