When you make a mistake, social media can be an unforgiving place.
That’s because followers often respond to missteps with harsh responses - and worse, they often take screenshots of a misguided post or inappropriate image, extending its shelf life for months, and sometimes years.
While social platforms can be a powerful medium for brands to communicate their message, and engage with their target audience, the truth is that when things go wrong, people tend to forget all the good things that a company achieved.
So without further ado, here are three brands that got it wrong on social, and the lessons you can take from their missteps.
Dove Real Beauty Bottle Campaign Misses the Mark
For years, Dove had reshaped its image by running social media campaigns with the hashtag #RealBeauty, which empowered women to embrace their bodies in unique ways.
Instead of pushing the old traditional ideas of beauty - which were tied to a slim physique and flawless skin - Dove launched campaigns showcasing beauty in many different shapes and sizes.
But then came the Real Beauty bottle shape campaign, in which the company released six limited-edition body wash bottles, in six different female shapes.
Though the campaign was well-intentioned, there were obvious problems.
Were women supposed to pick the bottle that represented their existing body shape, or the one that they aspired to have? And if they did pick the body shape that they didn’t have, but wanted, what did that say about their body image?
Are you starting to see the problems?
Dove meant well, but the company undercut its own past social media success by sending mixed messages about how it wanted women to think of their bodies.
The takeaway is that your brand message on social media needs to be consistent - because contradicting your it can degrade audience trust.
U.S. Department of Education Should Have Used Grammarly
You’d think that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would double-check its social media posts to make sure that every ‘i’ is dotted and that every ‘t’ is crossed. But alas, that isn’t always the case.
The ED made an embarrassing mistake when it sent out a series of tweets to promote the importance of getting an education.
One of the tweets was a quote from noted scholar W.E.B DuBois, which notes how an education is not just important for teaching people how to work, but also how to live their lives.
But the ED failed to spellcheck its post, and as a result, no one realized that the name ‘DuBois’ had been misspelled as ‘DeBois.’
Now that may seem like a small thing, but remember, this is the agency responsible for overseeing education in the U.S., and as such, there's a much bigger burden for this ‘brand’ to make sure every single word it posts on social is spelled correctly.
As you can imagine, many Twitter followers noticed the mistake, and were quick to point out the irony.
ED quickly responded by correcting the misspelling - but then made things worse by making another grammatical error.
The ED is a brand that represents the benefits of an education. By not assigning someone to do a spelling and grammar check before posting on social media, it lost a huge amount of credibility.
The takeaway is simple: every detail matters.
Regardless of what type of business you own, make sure every post has been checked and/or vetted in some way before going live.
For example, if you own a legal firm and you’re including facts about the number of car accidents in a post, make sure those numbers are accurate - because someone else will definitely check, and call you out for any inaccuracies.
McDonalds Vents Then Blames a Hacker
There are not too many brands that stand for the American 'can-do' attitude as much as McDonald’s, and the company has maintained its reputation by not courting controversy.
So it was downright shocking when the fast-food giant tweeted out some harsh criticisms about the current president shortly after he took office.
Regardless of where your opinion lies about the president, no brand should express its views this plainly, and with such malice, because it's guaranteed to anger some members of your target audience.
Of course, McDonald’s played the ‘my-Twitter-got-hacked’ card and quickly took down the post, but the damage was already done.
And here’s the thing - if McDonald’s was hacked, then the lesson for this big brand, and subsequently for any other business, is to implement the most stringent security to prevent the same from happening again.
But if McDonald’s wasn’t hacked, the lesson is that someone with common sense has to monitor your social media posts before they're sent out into the digital world.
Either way, McDonalds failed to adhere to two basic rules of how to properly post content on social media, and though the tweet received plenty of attention, it also generated boycott threats from a segment of the company’s audience that didn’t agree with the post.
A Double-Edged Sword
Social media has always been a sword that cuts both ways, and when you make a mistake, it will also seem much worse than when one of your campaigns goes viral for the right reasons. To help you avoid a social media fail that can harm your business, make sure you vet all your social media content through multiple parties so that mistakes are caught.
Avoid controversial content that you know will polarize your audience, and keep your brand message consistent so your audience isn’t confused. Remain vigilant, and your social media campaigns will be better off for it.