4 Of The Biggest Big Brand Blunders On Social Media

Big Brand Social Media MistakesWhether you’re a company of one or one hundred, managing your social media reputation is an important part of daily upkeep. From the old faithful sites of Facebook and Twitter to newer sites like Pinterest and Instagram, there’s a lot to of outbound messaging to juggle.

And it’s not always an easy job. Plenty of major brands have made slipups while trying to be social. To make sure your social media act gets rave reviews, we’ve put together a list of social media blunders so you can avoid the same pitfalls.

To help provide further commentary, we asked two social media managers, Natalie Bidnick, who works for a public relations firm, and Kristen Marquis, who runs her own online marketing company, to help us sift through some social media mistakes and extract some take-home lessons.

Urban Outfitters tweets an insensitive promo tied to Hurricane Sandy

As Hurricane Sandy approached landfall in the U.S., Urban Outfitters decided to connect the deadly storm with a free shipping offer. The tweet even included the hashtag #frankenstorm and the coupon code ALLSOGGY, which was also sent out via email. Here’s the tweet:Urban Outfitters Mistake

Hundreds of people fired back at Urban Outfitter’s insensitive comment. But the clothing store wasn’t alone; other major retailers made similar mistakes. American Apparel sent an email during the same time period that said, “In case you’re bored during the storm: 20% off everything for the next 36 hours.”

Marquis says brands should learn to stay in touch with current events, especially if they plan to connect those events to any marketing message. Understand the gravity of the situation before you take to the social media airwaves.

A good rule to thumb: don’t use a serious event to promote a sale.

US Airways tweets an X-rated picture

A major airline crashed and burned with a recent tweet. The person behind the social media curtain was responding to a customer on Twitter who was unhappy about a recent delay. The conversation started out unremarkably, with US Airways apologizing for any inconvenience.US Air Social Media MIstake

Then things got X-rated, fast. According to US Airways, their social media coordinator was trying to report an inappropriate image that was tweeted on their site earlier in the day. Somehow, the link to that inappropriate image was copied into the response to the woman complaining about delays. Here’s the tweet; though we’ve omitted the image, you can find the full writeup on BuzzFeed.US Air Social Media MIstake

When Marquis heard about the incident, she was just as shocked as everyone else who saw the picture.

Though US Airways did take the image down after about an hour and apologize for the incident, the damage was done.

“How such a huge brand could make such a rookie mistake blew my mind,” says Marquis. “I was in disbelief.”

To avoid the same type of negative exposure, check and re-check what you post on your site, Bidnick says. It’s easy to move too fast or get distracted when you’re writing a 140-character message, but if there is one thing you should learn from this mistake it’s to always proof your posts. If possible, have another person check posts before they go live.

Hotel fines guests for bad reviews

Yes, you read that headline right. Union Street Guest House actually wrote a clause into their venue contract that allows them to fine guests $500 for posting a negative review of their establishment online. A media outlet caught wind of this clause and the brand took a major hit on social media.

The hotel tried to recover, saying the clause was more of a joke and wasn’t enforced. However, people started producing emails from instances when the hotel had tried to collect the fees. Though an apology eventually appeared on the hotel’s Facebook page, negative reviews kept coming in. In response, comments were deleted, culminating the hotel’s deletion of its Facebook page.

Here’s a look at the backlash on Yelp and Twitter:Union Hotel Social Media MIstake

There are several lessons to be learned here. First and foremost, you can’t control your reviews. If you want 5-star ratings and positive feedback, you have to do as every other business does and offer a superior product or service that’s supported by friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Secondly, if you make a mistake, say so. Apologize publicly and try to make amends. In this case, claiming the clause was a joke only made the problem worse.

“The situation made the hotel owner look unprofessional and unsympathetic to potential customers,” Bidnick says. “At its worse, it made them look like jerks. The solution should have been to apologize profusely on social media and then clearly outline how policies have changed.”

And one more lesson can be gleaned from this blowout: don’t delete customer feedback. Whether the commentary is good or bad, deleting reviews makes your business and brand look bad. You should certainly respond to your reviews in a professional manner, but taking them down is a bad idea.

StubHub employee gets personal Twitter account mixed up with company site

A StubHub employee with access to the company’s social sites was very excited to leave work on a particular Friday. Apparently, he was in such a rush to start his weekend that he didn’t think to double-check which account he was posting to. He wrote a rather “descriptive” note that he meant to post on his personal page, but it wound up on the company page instead. The post read: “Thank f*#$ it’s Friday. Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.” Here’s the post: StubHub Social Media MIstake

Executives noticed the tweet, took it down and apologized immediately.StubHub Social Media MIstake

While this is the correct reaction to a situation like this, there is still a lesson to be learned. Don’t just trust your company’s social media site to anyone. Many businesses, especially those with older executives, assume social media is a younger person’s game. In response, they hire a younger employee to create a social media strategy, and post to their sites. They hand over the controls and assume this employee will represent the company in a positive light online. Whether you hire someone young or old isn’t the point. You need to hire someone who is reliable and will take your social media reputation seriously.

No matter how many sites your company uses, no matter how many posts or updates go out in a given day, social media messages require thought and time. And remember, social media sites are meant to be a two-way conversation. You can’t force people to participate or write what you want, but you can engage your customers and improve your brand awareness through thought-out communication.

Has your company ever made a social media mistake? What did you learn from it? Do you know of other big brand social media mixups that others can learn from? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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About Lisa Furgison

Lisa Furgison is a freelance journalist and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media. Find her on Twitter @lfurgison.