Social media is immediate. An insensitive or inaccurate tweet can quickly make it around the world before any apology or explanation can even be typed. Sadly, some of us have to learn this the hard way. So from utilizing the protests in Egypt to promote a clothing line, to dropping f-bombs on your company’s account, here are some of the worst social media blunders of 2011—and what you can learn from them.
Most people were heart-stricken when a tsunami hit Japan in March. Not comedian Gilbert Gottfried. The then-Aflac spokesperson sent out several inappropriate tweets on his @RealGilbert account, including this gem: “Japan called me. They said ‘maybe those jokes are a hit in the U.S., but over here, they’re all sinking.’” Aflac, which has a large branch in Japan, donated to the International Red Cross and fired the insensitive comedian.
Lesson: If your spokesperson has no censor button, get someone else, or lay down guidelines to avoid a Gottfried-esque snafu.
After pulling ads from a TLC reality show (pictured) about Muslim families, a note acknowledging the matter on Lowe’s Facebook page received over 23,000 comments. Most reprimanded the company, but others praised it. Posted on a December weekend, Lowe’s took no action against the openly racist and offensive comments until the press caught wind of them few days later. Responding to the issue, Lowe’s deleted all of the messages and issued a post explaining that they let the debate go on “Out of respect for the transparency of social media.” It received over 7,000 comments.
Lesson: Pay attention to your social media accounts—even on the weekend. Be reasonable in moderating comments and participate in discussions. Don’t lie low and wait for something to die down, it will likely just get worse.
No, really. In February the celebrity designer tried to capitalize on the violence in Egypt by posting this surprisingly self-promotional tweet to the company’s @KennethCole account: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.” The response wasn’t positive, resulting in Cole apologizing for his tweet, calling it “poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”
Lesson: Don’t make light of bad news. You can address current events, but keep it professional and separate from advertisements.
It took former Congressman Anthony Weiner (@RepWeiner) less than a month to go from claiming a lewd photo of him on Twitter was a result of a hack to resigning from his post. The New York lawmaker caused quite a scene with half-naked photos emerging online and several women coming forward to talk about inappropriate contact with the married man. President Obama even came forward in an interview admitting that if he was Weiner, he’d resign.
Lesson: If it’s private enough that you wouldn’t want it blasted over Twitter, then skip an attempt at a direct message and make a call instead. Or keep the thought—or image—to yourself. Bottom line: Leave your privates…private.
Ashton Kutcher felt the heat in November when the A-list celeb sent out an angry tweet to his 8 million-plus followers about former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, fired in connection to alleged child molestation scandals. An oblivious Kutcher went to his @aplusk account, tweeting: “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” Later catching on to the news, Kutcher deleted the tweet, admitted the error and explained that he didn’t have the whole story. Since then Kutcher gave the reins of his account to his Katalyst Media team.
Lesson: You might want to hire professionals to handle your account, or at least a fact-checker.
Just because your social media is in the hands of an outside company and not an intern doesn’t mean your accounts are safe from mis-tweets. Chrysler learned this the hard way in March when one of their social media representatives decided to vent about a poor commute—on the @ChryslerAutos account: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f*cking drive.” The uncensored tweet was intended for a personal account. It was subsequently removed from Chrysler’s feed, but not before retweets ran rampant and the f-bombing individual was terminated.
Lesson: Keep business and personal matters separate, delete offensive messages asap, and appropriately acknowledge them. The Red Cross had a similar incident, but a positive spin spared their reputation.
A presidential campaign video went viral, but the candidate was only in it for a few brief seconds. The star of the “Now is the time for action!” video is Cain’s Chief of Staff, Mark Block. The video—which has over 1.7 million views—isn’t too wild, until Block stares into the camera for a long drag on a cigarette and Cain makes an appearance, smiling like a Cheshire cat. The video inspired many parodies, and though it certainly grabbed attention, the viral video may have contributed to the demise of Cain’s presidential aspirations.
Lesson: You can blend humor and personality into your brand’s messages, but be sure to balance it out with some traditionally professional and serious material as well.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long been on the receiving end of critics angered by the social networking site’s privacy policies. So one day some hackers decided to break into Zuckerberg’s profile, posting several private pictures to image-sharing site Imgur with the caption “It’s time to fix those security flaws Facebook.” Most of the photos are Zuckerberg with his girlfriend, though one has the Facebook founder holding a chicken upside down, and another shows him chatting with President Obama. Facebook since implemented changes to block future hacks.
Lesson: If the picture makes you think twice, delete it or choose not to upload it, even if your account is on a high security setting. Also, if your password goes something like “123…” change it.
With over 1.3 million followers, it would seem that this presidential hopeful has really won people over. Well, that would be the case, as @newtgingrich has more followers than any other GOP candidate. But word spread that Gingrich’s team may have paid for fake followers, with the majority of his flock being inactive or dummy accounts created by follow agencies. Not the best press for someone running as a genuine candidate.
Lesson: Don’t pay for your followers—trust us—even if you need to become popular quickly. Reach out to your network for follows and make your Twitter handle easy to access on your site or newsletter.
You can’t write about social media in 2011 without bringing up Charlie Sheen. The extremely confident celeb and former Two and a Half Men star lit up Twitter with his erratic behavior, interesting hashtags (#tigerblood, #winning anyone?), and slams of people he worked with, referring to them as “trolls.” Then in December the self-proclaimed “unemployed winner” accidentally tweeted his number to his 5 million-plus followers. The digits have since been disconnected, but there’s no reason to think his drama-filled feed will subside.
Lesson: Think twice before you tweet, you’re not always #winning. Also don’t confuse a brand that has a lot of buzz with a successful company. People may be paying attention to Sheen, but that doesn’t mean they want to work with him.
Tempting followers with Qantas gift packs, the Australian airline prompted customers to describe their “dream luxury in-flight experience” in November. Instead passengers took to venting about being stranded after the airline halted flights to end ongoing strikes. The timing of the promotion was bad, as well as the company’s weak response to tweeted customer complaints: “At this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge.”
Lesson: Time your company’s promotions wisely and acknowledge unfortunate events. Just because you’re on Twitter doesn’t give your customer service permission to wane.
“Reports say that Steve Jobs has passed away. Stay tuned for more updates.” News many of us heard in October. Well, CBS’s "What’s Trending" webshow sent out the panic-inducing tweet in September, when the mastermind behind Apple was still living. The message was pulled a minute later and several apologies were issued via Twitter and through Shira Lazar, host of "What’s Trending." Lazar placed the blame on a nameless junior staffer. CBS consequently severed ties with the webshow and Lazar, stressing that the show was produced independently and had no newsgathering ties with CBS.
Lesson: Think twice before turning your social media over to an unskilled intern or junior staffer. Focus on being accurate rather than first. When apologizing pay due diligence, a flippant apology isn’t going to rebuild trust in your brand.