When Social Media Missteps Go Viral | 8 Examples

Posted on November 7, 2014 
Filed Under Content Marketing Strategy, Facebook, General, Internet Marketing, Marketing, Social Media, Social Media Marketing, Social Networking, Social Networks, Twitter


Over time, we’ve all seen businesses, celebs and politicians fail epically at social media. When a campaign burns to the ground, there is always an underlying reason. For example:

  • Humor only works on social media if you’re actually funny
  • Twitter bots are dangerous
  • Customers can be critical and it’s impossible to please everyone


Then there is another reason. The good old maxim “any press is good press”. But that’s unlikely in most circumstances. The social media landscape today is way too precarious for businesses to deliberately make blunders for publicity.

What You Can Learn from the Worst Social Media Mistakes in Recent Years

1. Your Facebook or Twitter Account is an Extension of You

– London Luton Airport

In March 2013, London Luton Airport was slammed for using the picture of a fatal crash in Chicago, which killed a 6-year-old boy, in a Facebook post that was meant to be amusing. The caption read:

“Because we are such a super airport….this is what we prevent you from when it snows……Weeeee :)”


The tragic crash that killed a 6-year old boy

The insensitive picture was removed within 90 minutes after it was posted following an outrage by Facebook users.

– American Airlines

Called the “largest, shittiest airline in the world”, American Airlines replied to a tweet by an obviously unhappy customer with “Thank you for your support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican.” The tweet has since been deleted but this just goes to show that while there are some situations where an auto-tweet is acceptable (for example when someone subscribes to your monthly newsletter), there is a danger to auto-responding to everything.


2. Don’t Tie your Business to an Unrelated Event just Because it’s Trending

– Entenmann

Baked goods purveyor Entenmann learned the hard way that words can be a tricky thing. Following the verdict in the controversial Casey Anthony murder trial, Entenmann sent out a tweet that read:

“Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”

Naturally, there was backlash and the inevitable apology wasn’t long in coming.


– CelebBoutique

Maybe it was ignorance or maybe it was heartlessness but following the Aurora Shooting in the early hours of July 20, 2012, CelebBoutique made a massive and unforgivable social media misstep tweeting:

“#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress;)”

The company’s PR clearly did not have the time or inclination to check on why Aurora was trending and the resulting tweet was incredibly insensitive. They later followed up with an apology and an explanation about what happened.


3. Think Before you Post


Earlier this year, NYPD‘s social media outreach attempt backfired when the police department requested Twitter users to share pictures of them posing with NYPD police officers. The result was a series of photos of police brutality. This social media fail is reminiscent of another recent Twitter debacle: The 2012 McDonald #McDstories hashtag fail.


– McDonald’s

A Twitter campaign aimed at opening the floodgates for praise, the McDonald’s #McDStories hashtag backfired spectacularly when it prompted an outburst from users who went on to use the hashtag to highlight their horror stories at the fast food chain.


4. Be Careful When Posting about Solemn Events

– Epicurious

Social media is an effective way for brands to reach and impact their target audience but sometimes, they just get it wrong. On the morning following the Boston bombing, the food and recipe website, Epicurious tweeted:

“Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.”

Followed by:

“In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!”

Each tweet had a link to a product or recipe. Needless to say, this was in very poor taste and the brand had to issue numerous apologies through social media in the aftermath of it all.



– Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole is a fashion designer who is constantly putting his foot in his mouth on Twitter. In 2011, during the unrest in Cairo, Kenneth Cole figured it was the perfect time to promote his fashion brand and tweeted:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.”

The insensitive tweet didn’t sit well with people. Obviously!



But he didn’t learn from that misstep. Fast forward to 2013, Kenneth Cole still thinks war is funny sending out the tweet: “Boots on the ground” or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear. President Barack Obama has used the phrase “boots on the ground” in regards to sending in ground troops to Syria.


Related Post:

Using #Hashtags the Right Way

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