Not too long ago, many businesses were afraid of using social media. Sure, it gave them a great marketing channel and opened the floodgates for consumer interaction, but it has a steep learning curve and if you make a mistake on social media, everyone is there to see it. But, as the old adage goes, there is no such thing as bad press. 2013 was rife with social media foibles and missteps, but ten in particular stood out to me as the biggest mistakes of the year.
1. Applebee’s and tithing.
A waitress in a St. Louis Applebee’s was left understandably annoyed after she was stiffed a tip. The patron, a pastor named Alois Bell, then added insult to injury by writing ‘I give God 10%, why do you get 18?’ on the check. The waitress’s colleague snapped a picture of the check, went on to post it to Reddit’s /r/Atheism forum, and coverage of the event blew up. It was Applebee’s reaction, however, that really caused a stir as they fired the waitress for posting the check, calling it ‘personal information,’ even though, just two weeks earlier, they posted a note with a customer’s name on it. Eventually, though, outrage subsided – the waitress admitted that she shouldn’t have posted the check, and Pastor Bell apologized for the note.
2. Zuckerberg’s security woes.
Back in August, Palestinian security developer Khalil Shreateh exposed a glaring hole in Facebook’s security that could allow people to post on the timelines they weren’t connected to. Facebook offers a bounty to people who discover these holes in their security in the hopes that enterprising hackers don’t sell their discoveries to spammers and other less-than-savory characters. But Facebook responded to Shreateh by telling him it wasn’t a bug, and so he exploited the problem and posted directly onto Mark Zuckerberg’s timeline. The press went nuts, and Facebook came out with egg on its face. Then, in an absolutely comical misstep, they refused to pay Shreateh the bounty because he violated Facebook’s ToS. The story does have a happy ending though, as $13,000 was donated to Shreateh through GoFundMe.com to thank him for his hard work.
3. HMV’s own X-Factor.
HMV used to be one of the biggest entertainment retailers in Britain, but industry changes and mismanagement cost the company millions and forced substantial cutbacks. In January the company laid off a good portion of its staff and one social media employee, understandably upset, chose to roguishly live-tweet the event under #HMVXFactorFirings. The debacle embarrassed the already struggling company, and the tweets were eventually deleted, but not before HMV’s marketing director was revealed to have asked ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’
4. Burger King is hijacked.
Burger King famously had its Twitter account hacked earlier this year, though the pranksters didn’t do too much with it. After a couple of shout-outs to McDonalds and a few references to different drugs, Twitter suspended the account and it was placed back in BK’s hands. The twitter account did get 5,000 new followers within thirty minutes, though, so it wasn’t all bad news for the King.
5. MTV and BET try to follow suit.
Envious of the attention BK received, the marketing wizards at Viacom, which owns both MTV and BET, decided that they should also have their accounts hijacked. By themselves. Flanked with the hashtag #MTVHack (ugh, really?), the accounts took a few playful swipes at each other and then began to use the trending hashtag to plug shows. They finally ended the cringe-fest with ‘We totally catfish-ed you guys.’ Marvelous.
6. Carnival puts on the #CruiseFromHell.
Social media is a two-way street – you can’t just use Twitter and Facebook as megaphones to blast your message. You have to talk to people, especially when you are trying to clean up a mess. When Carnival Cruise’s boat Triumph suffered an engine room fire, passengers were stuck for days without functioning toilets or fresh food. Carnival did post announcements and updates to Facebook, but deftly avoided any negative posting. I understand not wanting to feed the trolls, but when your company is the subject of a negative trending topic on Twitter, you have to start talking to your followers. Instead Carnival hushed up until it sent a flurry of apologies once passengers finally left the ship.
7. Home Depot gets called racist.
Home Depot found itself in hot water while trying to drum up some support for ESPN’s @CollegeGameDay account, which it sponsors. Apparently, someone in marketing thought it would be a good idea to dress someone up in a monkey suit, put them between two African-American drummers pounding away on Home Depot buckets, and then ask which drummer was unlike the others. While some felt the accusations of racism were reaching, Home Depot did apologize, calling the tweet stupid and deleting it.
8. Epicurious tries to profit from tragedy.
If there is one thing a business should never, ever do, it is profit off of tragedy. But Epicurious left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth when they tried to piggyback on the Boston Bombings. In one tweet they followed ‘Boston our hearts are with you,’ with ‘Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.’ Insensitive, to say the least. Epicurious deleted the tweets and apologized, but everyone was left wondering what the heck they were thinking.
9. Amy’s Baking Company loses it.
This was easily one of the most famous social meltdowns this year. After appearing on the show “Kitchen Nightmares” and acting absolutely unapologetic for their shoddy business practices, viewers took to social media and began to call out the company through Facebook and Twitter. Amy’s Baking Company freaked out, and posted a series of capitalized rants defending the company’s practices and promising to sue everyone who “slandered” them online. After some seriously negative press, they began to claim they were hacked, and, in the true spirit of Capitalism, started to sell merchandise emblazoned with some of the more notable quotes from the Kitchen Nightmares appearance.
While this isn’t the most noteworthy social media blunder of 2013, it is one of the more recent ones and is still fairly fresh in everyone’s mind. In November, JPMorgan decided it was a good idea to host a Q&A on Twitter with the hashtag #AskJPM. The problem, of course, is that JPMorgan is one of the financial institutions blamed for dragging the United States into our current recession. Responses to the event’s announcement proved that JPMorgan had neither the brand loyalty nor the audience on Twitter to make a Q&A successful, and the company called it off. Which is a bummer, because it would’ve been interesting to see how they would’ve handled themselves had the Q&A actually been put on.
2013 was a very interesting year in the world of social media marketing, and I look forward to seeing what happens in 2014 and whether these brands will learn from their mistakes. Of course there were more than ten social media missteps, so if I skipped your favorite, feel free to leave it in the comments below!
(social media blunders of 2013 / shutterstock)