No matter how many Twitter wars Kanye and Taylor Swift engage in, their succinct literary warfare is unlikely to damage either of their brands. After all, they’re celebrities – getting noticed (for better or worse) is part of the job description, and the more drama the better.
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Unfortunately, this is not the case for companies interested in using social media to increase awareness, elevate their brand, and contribute to their overall public image. If you’re using social media on behalf of your company, you want to create an overwhelmingly positive impression that boosts sales and encourages loyal patronage.
Along these lines, knowing what not to do can be important, and you can learn lessons from the failure of others. Here are a few of the most spectacular social media marketing failures in recent years and what you can learn from them.
Over the last couple of years, police forces in major cities (and even in smaller towns) have suffered from some serious PR headaches due to a growing awareness of and outcry over misconduct, racism, and bad behavior. In a bid to turn things around, the New York Police Department asked Twitter followers to share pics of themselves with members of the NYPD.
No doubt they anticipated responses featuring positive interactions with officers. What happened instead was the opposite: a wave of photos depicting police brutality.
The problem stemmed from grossly misjudging the public sentiment. They thought they could garner some good press, but they ended up creating a platform for their detractors. Having a finger on the pulse of public opinion, and finding a way to place yourself on the “right” side of an issue, is crucial to a successful strategy of this nature.
2. American Apparel Challenger Pic
This edgy clothing brand is no stranger to controversy, but even they have their standout moments. You may remember this case from 2013, when, in honor of the 4th of July, American Apparel posted a photo from the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle crash with hashtags “smoke” and “clouds”.
Whether they didn’t know what the photo was or they simply thought people wouldn’t recognize it, they made a serious miscalculation. They later blamed the incident on an “international social media employee”, implying that the person responsible wasn’t aware of the photo’s significance.
Unfortunately, public memory is long, especially for horrific tragedies. The lesson to be learned here is not to underestimate public knowledge and to maintain oversight when employees are posting to social media.
3. SeaWorld ‘Blackfish’ Response
Following the release of ‘Blackfish’, a documentary chronicling the mistreatment and exploitation of orcas, SeaWorld sought to fight back by creating the “AskSeaWorld” hashtag. No doubt they were hoping for a chance to refute negative press, but, predictably, just the opposite occurred.
Opponents took the opportunity to post questions like, “Why do you provide more area for us to park our cars than you give these animals to live?” If SeaWorld learned a lesson from this debacle, it would probably be not to invite critics to engage in an open forum.
4. Epicurious Scones
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bomb incident in 2013, Epicurious tweeted their sympathy, along with a call for followers to boost their spirits with scones. It may seem obvious, but taking advantage of public tragedy to promote your brand is never a good idea.
5. The Onion Taking Satire Too Far
If you know anything about The Onion, the online publication renowned for humorously skewering the news of the day, you might find it hard to believe that there’s a line they cannot cross. Unfortunately, this proved untrue.
In a 2013 tweet following the academy awards, the e-zine referred to then 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest actress to be nominated for an Academy Award, as a very shocking four-letter word for female anatomy. Perhaps they were making some kind of statement about the elevation of child stars. Maybe they genuinely thought they were being funny.
More likely they saw an opportunity to take advantage of a trending topic and bungled it to an alarming degree. The point is, even humorous organizations need to seriously consider the taste level before they post.
The takeaway here really pertains to appropriate behavior. You can create timely, engaging, and even somewhat shocking social media content without enraging the public if you just use a little common sense. If you read something and find it offensive, chances are others will feel the same.