All too often, marketers, bloggers, influencers and social experts talk about the benefits of using social media. While there’s no debate about whether it’s a useful tool for your efforts, the rewards must outweigh the risk. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? No one ever talks about the risks.
Can you bankrupt your business with a single tweet? What happens when your social media team breaks bad? Will you lose all your investors? Is it possible to get into legal trouble because of social content?
If you spent all day asking questions about it, you could fill a stadium and then some. One thing is clear, however. You want to avoid making social media mistakes as much as possible because that error lives on forever through the internet, just ask celebrities like Alec Baldwin and James Franco.
Considering that, here are four of the biggest social media blunders that ever happened. Why? Nobody wants to see anyone repeat these mistakes.
1. American Apparel: Light It up Like the Fourth of July
Mistakes happen. Every once in a while, you post a status or send a tweet with a typo. Maybe you forgot to include the URL to the content you were sharing. Could be you forgot to tag someone important in your message.
Whatever the case, you make your mistake, own up to it and then never do it again. But what happens when you make an error that could easily have been avoided?
You get the American Apparel blunder. In 2014, the company reblogged a Tumblr post that showed a suspicious plume of smoke. Apparently, the social media administrator thought it was a patriotic explosion, though clearly, that would have been some firework.
The problem is, that’s an image of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that happened back in 1986. Oops!
The company released a statement later apologizing for the mistake and claimed that a young employee — born before the incident — was responsible. Of course, it still came across as ignorant and insensitive because a simple Google image search would have revealed the problem.
The lesson? Proofread everything, especially if it’s going to be associated with your brand. Check your facts before making a statement of any kind. Be prepared for something to go awry, and make a genuine effort to apologize and remedy the situation if it does.
2. Microsoft: When AI Is Not O-Tay
This public relations and social media disaster isn’t completely Microsoft’s fault, but considering the company’s experience, they should have known better.
Here’s the gist. Microsoft deployed an artificial intelligence ‘bot’ to interact with people and share content on Twitter. This AI was given a teenage persona and named Tay. The idea was that she would learn and grow over time to become a formidable — and beloved — social media user.
Let’s just say, things didn’t go as planned. Some users learned how to interact with Tay and teach her things, like curse words and offensive language. These interactions tricked Tay into sharing racist, ignorant and cruel messages.
Microsoft shut Tay down and released an update in the hopes that it would fix her. Things never worked out, and they later closed down the program.
The lesson here is to stop and think before you act or share something. Microsoft could have solved all of this by predicting how users would react to a “learning” teenage AI like Tay. It was always bound to go belly up.
3. JP Morgan: Mind Current Events
As brands often do, the JP Morgan social team did their best to make a hashtag go viral. They did succeed, but it wasn’t a win for the company. The reason? They didn’t pay attention to current events and public opinion.
The hashtag they encouraged everyone to use was #AskJPM. The goal was to have interested customers ask financial and brand-related questions and get actionable advice in return. Except, they launched the campaign right around the time the company was under severe scrutiny for a series of criminal acts and world financial market manipulation.
The campaign went downhill fast, as consumers reached out in the thousands to use the hashtag to bash the company, its policies and business practices.
Another, more recent, example is Adidas’ “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon” tweet. Immediately, people were reminded of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which led to the company apologizing.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you people. Not only is it easy to get yourself in hot water like JP Morgan and Adidas, but you’ll also come off as insensitive and uninformed.
4. McDonald’s: Take It or Leave It, the Responsibility Is Yours
A team member with access to your social accounts could go rogue and post offensive content or hurtful messages. Hackers could take control of your accounts and wreak havoc on your followers. Followers themselves could hijack a social media campaign with hate speech.
Things can and will go wrong sometimes. It’s important to remember that what happens is your responsibility and will reflect on your brand.
A prime example is McDonald’s infamous tweet about Donald Trump — “You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have Barack Obama back, also you have tiny hands.”
It turns out, no one on the McDonald’s team had anything to do with the message. Instead, hackers compromised the account and seized the opportunity to attack Trump. Luckily, the tweet was swiftly deleted, and the company was just as fast to issue an apology. The damage was already done, however.
No, you can’t control what others do, but you can take responsibility for what happens, especially when it involves your brand and your social accounts. That’s why it’s important to learn from the social media blunders of companies like Microsoft, Adidas and more.