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Social Media Catastrophes and How They Should Have Been Dealt With

Despite social media sites being up and running now for nine years it would appear some of us still haven’t quite grasped the concept. Whatever, you post is going viral, even global! Anyone anywhere can read it (of course depending on your settings.) This is why as a company, each and every post should be carefully thought through. These questions should be asked- ‘Why am I posting this?’ and ‘What reaction am I hoping to receive?’ To post blindly and rashly is social media suicide. 

The Skittle Scandal

The Problem- The ‘Taste The Rainbow’ sweets owned by Mars had a genius plan in making their website interactive for visitors- or so they thought. Mars Decided to make their skittles colourful home page a thing of the past and replace it with live fed content from their social media sites. This resulted in twitter users posting foul and insulting comments which were fed straight to the skittle site. All they had to do was hash tag skittles. This meant anyone visiting the site was faced with rude and offensive comments. This isn’t the result Mars were hoping for.

How Was It Dealt With?- Mars knowing fully what was going on, for some unknown reason kept the feed up for a while before rethinking their site and moving the feed down to the corner of the page. For days visitors to the site (including children) were faced with swear words and vile comments (too vile to repeat!)

How It Should Have Been Dealt With?- The first and obvious problem here was the lack of moderation. Had Mars been able to set up a process in which all the comments were checked before they went on the site, there wouldn’t have really been an issue. Mars did not respond fast enough, leaving the site up for days resulting in many unhappy customers. They should have taken the site down instantly as soon as they were aware of the problem, offering an apology for their mistake.

The TGI Terror

The Problem- TGI’s the well known American restaurant decided to launch a campaign featuring a fictitious character named Woody. TGI’s offered the public a free burger if they got their Facebook page up to 500,000 likes. Over whelmed by how fast the likes added up TGI’s couldn’t deal with the extreme response. Customers became angry as they were not receiving the vouchers for the promised free food.

How Was It Dealt With?- In order to attempt to make customers happy TGI’s amazingly thought it would be a good idea to extend the offer to the first million likes on the page, now making it even more unmanageable. With customers still not receiving their vouchers angry forums popped up with customers venting their frustration. TGI’s then pulled down the fan page, losing all the followers they had bribed to join in the first place.

How It Should Have Been Dealt With- Firstly TGI’s quite obviously should not have extended their offer (I would love to hear the logic behind this one!) They should have left it as it was and continued to work on getting the vouchers to the customers they had promised them too, making sure they were issuing public apologies as they went, explaining that the volume of page likes was much more than they had anticipated.

The Amazon ‘Accident’

The Problem- In 2009 Amazon decided to remove any titles it felt ‘inappropriate’ from its rankings list without warning. All the ‘adult’ and gay and lesbian themed books disappeared from the lists causing outrage from authors and customers.

How Was It Dealt With?- Well it wasn’t really. Amazon claimed it was a technical glitch. And that was it. They didn’t offer any more information or statements as to what was going to happen from there on.

How Should It Have Been Dealt With- Amazon should have just told the truth! Why they decided to lie to the world is beyond me. They could have explained they felt it was inappropriate to have the content on the rankings, anything apart from taking no responsibility for what had happened. 


These are pretty huge social media disasters, and all of them could have been dealt with better. They were clearly poorly thought out ideas and for whatever reason the results were unexpected for each company, meaning they had to come up with a plan of action fast when all hell broke loose. I’m sure all companies had a PR agency in place, but what they were thinking is beyond me. Take it from me Amazon, Mars and TGI’s- PR is so so essential to handling these situations. Learn from these guys mistakes and make sure you get the right PR team for you.

Join The Conversation

  • danielblinman's picture
    Nov 26 Posted 4 years ago danielblinman

    Craig- You say that Eilidh is being harsh and presumptuous in her post.

    Ironically, I feel that you are the one being a bit harsh and presumptuous in your comment to be honest.

    The first one- You presume that Eilidh is looking at the catastrophes and trying to offer advice for how to increase traffic to the Skittles website. This is clearly not the case. She is obviously offering her thoughts behind remaining moral on social media and protecting young-ones from viewing swear words. I don't understand who considers it to be a "success" when children are exposed to foul language and nobody does anything to prevent it.

    The third one- I don't even really understand your critisim here. All Eilidh is saying is that Amazon should have told the truth. It doesn't matter if they are not obliged to tell us or not. They should have told the truth, nothing really debateable here.



  • Nov 22 Posted 4 years ago craigmcgill

    You're being a bit harsh - and slightly presumptuous - in at least one of the cases.

    The first one, many people call it a sucees and show it as a sign of leaving a community to just get on with it. People trolled it and then moved on, but others got into the spirit of things. Also, from a PR point of view, leaving it running - as people spread details of the comments that were being put up there - meant that more and more people came and looked at the site/tried to game it. If it had been closed down right away, there would have been less visitors.

    You're assuming that Mars - once this kicked off - didn't go "hang on, there's a bit of PR in this" or even factor that in from the start.

    On the second one, totally agree. They made a mess of it. I can only think that the 'go to a million' idea was to buy themselves some time (and not send anything out until they reached 1million) but yeah, that was a gaffe.

    On the last one, Amazon has always stuck to this party line - tinkering with the code - and it happened on a Friday (not resolved until a Monday) and in many cases it may well be that it was a technical issue (or a disgruntled member of staff tinkering with code). Yes, they could have offered more code details - and dealt with it better over the weekend from a PR perspective - but they didn't. I'd call this a PR fail more than anything. But companies aren't obliged to tell us chapter and verse of what goes wrong (and like some other large firms, including Apple, they aren't exactly the best at social media). Let's also be honest, it has hardly brought the company down.

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