Your social life is no less immune to awkward moments because it's happening online. Companies—and their employees—discovered that the hard way in 2009. Big and small enterprises alike demonstrated why it's important to invest in a bit of social media training or at least use some common sense. Here, we rank the most embarrassing blunders of the year. Small businesses take heed.
Cutting-edge advertising firm Agency.com fancied itself forward-thinking for its plan to crowd-source content for the Skittles homepage, including a feed from its Facebook fan page and a live stream of tweets related to the candy. Pranksters had other ideas when they started flooding the homepage with obscene tweets with the hashtag skittles. Even the more G-rated tweets, such as "#skittles got stuck in my mouth while I was driving, forced me to slam into orphanage, killing hundreds. I'll never eat them again" or "Skittles are poisoning the sheepish brains of the social media echo chamber," were equally unwelcome.
Twitter was overrun with the topic #amazonfail when users thought the e-commerce site changed its policies to get lesbian, gay, and transgender books ranked lower on the site. Amazon later explained that it was a glitch and rectified the mistake, but not soon enough to dissipate suspicions among consumers who liked the feeling of flexing their collective voice on Twitter.
Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, the company behind popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, thought he was in the company of like-minded entrepreneurs at a start-up mixer in Berkeley when he said, "I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues." TechCrunch cut the 30-minute speech down to the part where Pincus admitted that scamming was an early part of Zynga's business model and posted it online. Still, more than 1,100 Facebook shares, 500 tweets, and 255 comments on the video didn't stop Pincus from nabbing CEO of the year at the Crunchies this January.
We called Brazen Careerist founder Penelope Trunk "the voice of the new guard." But her tell-all approach to social media rubbed some readers the wrong way when she tweeted about having a miscarriage in a board meeting. Trunk's website was deluged with complaints and she quickly lost 70 followers on Twitter. Trunk, who fired back that most miscarriages happen at work, defended the tweet on her blog: "We are not used to talking about the female experience, and especially not in the context of work. But so what? We can start now."
There's nothing necessarily untoward about rewarding people who comment positively on your company. But Royal Caribbean's social media attempt backfired when it failed to disclose that it had solicited the names of consumers who posted flattering feedback about its cruises on user-generated message boards like Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor—and then paid them in perks to continue to post favorable reviews. Even Arthur Frommer, the granddaddy of travel writing, weighed in on the scandal. In the end, the lack of transparency sullied Royal Caribbean's brand, as well as consumers' faith in the objectivity of the travel sites.
It would have cost United Airlines $3,500 to replace Dave Carroll's Taylor guitar, which was damaged by baggage handlers when he and his band Sons of Maxwell checked into a flight at O'Hare. Instead, the airline gave Carroll the run-around. The band promptly released a video for the Sons of Maxwell song "United Breaks Guitars," inspired by Carroll's experience, which was viewed more than 7.2 million times on YouTube.
What's the fastest way to lose a job offer? Tweet about how much you're gonna hate the job. In response to an offer from Cisco, recent Berkeley grad Connor Riley tweeted: "Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." A Cisco employee quickly tweeted back, "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web." Riley was dubbed "the Cisco Fatty" and ridiculed for bungling a prime opportunity in the midst of a recession.
Self-professed social media expert and former Ketchum exec James Andrews tweets under the handle "keyinfluencer." Which might be why his tweet about Memphis being "one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, 'I would die if I had to live here," got picked up elsewhere on the blogosphere. Unfortunately for Andrew, FedEx, a valued Ketchum client that invited him to its Memphis headquarters to talk about digital media, saw it too.
Facebook didn't seem to learn much from the dust-up with users over changing its terms of service last February. But the internet learned a lot about founder Mark Zuckerberg when the site changed its default privacy settings last month. Valleywag, a tech gossip blog, wasted no time in combing through the 290 odd pictures of Zuckerberg suddenly available to the public, including ones of the young CEO staring dreamily into his girlfriend's eyes, wearing pajamas and hugging a teddy bear, and seemingly inebriated in Lake Tahoe.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is best known for his net worth and his big mouth. Both took a hit when he lambasted a referee on Twitter for a missed call during a game. The NBA slapped Cuban with a $25,000 fine. "Can't say no one makes money from Twitter now. The NBA does," he quipped.