Social media can be hilarious. And no, I’m not just talking about the memes, cat pics, and dumb videos you see posted by your friends (though like you, I also find these things hilarious). Instead, my attention often turns to how major brands market themselves on social media (because I’m a giant marketing nerd), and sometimes, I can’t help but laugh at some of the ways they shoot themselves in the foot.
These are five examples of some of the funniest screw-ups I’ve ever been privy to:
- US Airways tweets porn. I feel bad for US Airways, and most airliners in general. Anytime there’s a delay or bad news, they get swarms of customers inundating their social accounts with angry complaints, and they do their best to address those complaints politely and helpfully. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out well for the airline. Last year, US Airways attempted to respond to a patron’s complaint with a simple apology and a link to their customer service department. There was just one problem—they accidentally included a pornographic image of a woman with a toy airplane. How did this happen? The story goes, someone tweeted this picture at US Airways, and they mistakenly sent out that link instead of the intended link. Needless to say, it upset a lot of people. If your morbid curiosity has gotten the better of you, you can find the full story and the image here.
- #MyNYPD invites social criticism of police brutality. In what was honestly a pretty decent idea for a social media campaign, the NYPD tried to promote a hashtag back in 2014, #MyNYPD, to highlight stories of how the NYPD has positively affected the lives of New York citizens. Unfortunately, public relations with the NYPD weren’t ready for such a collaboration. The intention was to celebrate small positive moments, like a police officer helping an elderly citizen cross the street. Instead, the #MyNYPD hashtag was bombarded with images of past police brutality. Your definitions of “art” and “irony” may invite you to enjoy this on some higher level, but I tried to keep it surface level; the social criticism here is both valid and amusing.
- DiGiorno unintentionally makes light of domestic abuse. First, let me be clear: domestic abuse is a serious problem and is in no way amusing. What is amusing is a company’s lack of research leading to an awkward and flabbergasting situation. The #WhyIStayed hashtag grew in popularity as survivors of domestic abuse rallied together in an effort to increase visibility and recognition of the immense domestic violence problem in the United States. DiGiorno, unfortunately, did not research the meaning behind this hashtag, only seeing that it was trending. As a result, they tweeted “pizza” as the reason “why I stayed.” Perceived as both insensitive and self-promotional, DiGiorno endured a massive backlash from its user base, and ended up owing the Twitter community a massive apology.
- Target fails to catch a troll. Last year, Target decided to introduce gender neutrality to its children’s departments, which for reasons that elude me, offended a great deal of people. In an unfortunate rally, a number of these offended gender authorities marched to Target’s Facebook account to vocalize their concerns. Some anonymous troll, seeing this amazing opportunity, decided to mock up a page that mimicked Target’s social image and respond to these complaints with tongue-in-cheek answers and sometimes, straight-up insults, such as “Kevin, there’s no real nice way to put this … You’re a real dick.” This isn’t Target’s fault. What is Target’s fault is the fact that it took them the better part of a day to recognize this troll, stop him/her from posting, and apologize for the incident. You have to act fast when this stuff comes up.
- Microsoft’s AI personality is taught to be racist. Earlier this year, Microsoft came up with an ingenious and inspiring idea; create an artificial intelligence bot (Tay) on social media who can chat with users in real-time, learn from them, and develop a “genuine” personality based on those around it. Well, it took less than a day for the Internet to turn Tay into a racist, xenophobic asshole. In less than 24 hours, Tay went from making posts like “Humans are super cool” to “Hitler was right I hate the jews.” Microsoft quickly took the project down.
Okay, So What’s the Moral of the Story?
These stories are hilarious, but what valuable takeaways are there? First, bad things are probably going to happen to you on social media. You’ll compromise your reputation, embarrass yourself, and make mistakes. Second, if you’re underprepared, you’ll make yourself even more vulnerable to these brand-destroying incidents. The last thing you want is to have your credibility destroyed by a dumb joke or an innocent mistake, so you need to take proactive measures to prevent these events from occurring—and know what to do if something comes up.
How to Protect Yourself
Here are five quick strategies on how to protect yourself from embarrassing incidents like these.
- Think shit through. Half the items on this list could have been prevented with a simple brainstorming session; e.g., “hey, what happens if the Internet decides to be a jerk and trolls the shit out of us with this?”
- Do your research before you post. If you don’t know what a hashtag means, DON’T USE IT.
- Double check everything. Have a team in place, double checking each other, so you don’t accidentally send out the wrong link. It’s too easy a mistake to make.
- Be prepared to act quickly. Social media moves fast; you need to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
- Don’t hide; apologize. If something does happen, don’t try to cover it up or ignore it. Instead, be transparent, own up to it, and try to make it up to your followers.
Nobody’s perfect. You’re going to make mistakes no matter how hard you try to prevent them, but it’s still worth the proactive effort to avoid as many as you can before they happen. Beyond that, you need to own up to your mistakes when they happen, and work actively to maintain the public’s faith in your brand.
If you need help developing your brand online, through content and social media, we’re the ones you need to talk to. Contact us, and we’ll help you find your place in this increasingly confusing—yet amusing—digital world.