Companies are increasingly turning to social media to expand their Internet presence, promote their brand and engage with consumers. However, though social media is a powerful and effective tool, it can also generate a ton of negative publicity if used carelessly.
Here are 10 social media blunders that stand as cautionary tales on what not to do on the Internet:
1. American Apparel: Mistaking national tragedy for fireworks.
To celebrate Independence Day, American Apparel used its Tumblr account to post a modified picture of the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Mistaking the blast for fireworks, the post was tagged #Smoke and #Clouds.
The 1986 tragedy killed all seven crew members. For its irresponsible post, American Apparel, was bombarded with widespread criticism. The company issued an apology stating that the social media manager was born after the disaster and did not recognize the photo.
2. Delta: Ghanaian giraffes.
To congratulate the U.S. team on its winning goal over Ghana in the World Cup, Delta tweeted two images representing each country. One image included the Statue of Liberty for the U.S. and the other a giraffe for Ghana.
The problem is that giraffes are not native to Ghana. The photo turned out to be a stock image of a giraffe in Kenya, a country located a few thousand miles away.
3. DiGiorno: Using domestic violence to sell pizza.
After NFL player Ray Rice was suspended for punching his wife, thousands of women took to Twitter to discuss #WhyIStayed and share their stories about abusive relationships.
Capitalizing on a trending hashtag without considering its context, DiGiorno used #WhyIStayed to sell pizza. The company received a lot of flack, and responded with apologies.
4. Gap: Lower aspirations, lower profit.
Gap took to Twitter to advertise its hashtag #DressNormal campaign. It backfired. Critics were confused by Gap’s embrace of banality.
Though the intention of “Dress Normal” was to appeal to a larger audience, it had no positive effect on sales, which were down 4 percent in November compared to a 2 percent increase the previous year.
5. LG: Making fun of iPhone with an iPhone.
When hashtag #bendgate—the controversy over whether Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus could bend—went viral, many competitors jumped at the opportunity to post tweets mocking the phone.
LG France joined in the foray, tweeting: “Our smartphones don’t bend, they are naturally curved ;)”. Ironically, the message was posted from an iPhone, undermining the criticism.
6. JPMorgan Chase: Inviting public hatred.
Brand managers have to be beyond reproach to conduct successful social media Q&As. Somehow, someone at JPMorgan Chase thought it was a good idea to hold a Twitter Q&A using #AskJPM.
Chase, one of the biggest U.S. banks that has faced criminal probes related to the manipulation of world financial markets, received tremendous public backlash when it began soliciting tweets. As a result, the bank withdrew from the Q&A the evening before it was supposed to go live.
7. Ventra: Asking for a headache.
The Chicago Transit Authority also hosted a Twitter Q&A using #AskVentra. But in doing so, Ventra, which makes the transit fare card for the system, exposed itself to public ridicule.
Consumers shared disparaging comments rather than questions seeking genuine answers. A brand must first build favorable relationships with its customers before hosting a public forum for constructive dialogue.
8. Smucker’s: Deleting Facebook criticism.
Last year, many individuals took to Smucker’s Facebook page to challenge its political position against mandating GMO labels. Smucker’s reaction was to delete the posts. Unfortunately for Smucker’s, its reaction did not go unnoticed.
9. US Airways: Posting a pornographic tweet.
Reacting to a complaint posted on Twitter, US Airways “accidentally” tweeted a statement that included a lewd image of a naked woman with a toy plane.
Company management discovered the gaffe an hour later and quickly removed it. By the time the tweet was deleted, it already went viral and was retweeted hundreds of times. US Airways has not used their account since the incident.
10. Victoria’s Secret: Sending body-shaming messages.
When Victoria’s Secret rolled out its “The Perfect ‘Body'” ad featuring skinny models, the brand received strong public condemnation via social media for the campaign’s body-shaming message.
It inspired the hashtag #iamperfect on Twitter, as well as an online petition for Victoria’s Secret to end the ad campaign. In response, Victoria’s Secret updated its creatives to read “A Body for Every Body”.
These social media blunders reveal a couple important lessons. First, do not host an online Q&A unless you are absolutely sure that your company can handle public jabs. Second, do your homework before posting anything. When in doubt, do not tweet it out.