Famous Social Media Mistakes and How to Learn from Them

As a company that performs social media marketing services, we are often dismayed by the social media backfires that are so often reported in the press: a twitter misfire, a case of missing the target audience, an incident of not addressing problems quickly enough, etc.  These stories can lead some members of the business community to be afraid of engaging their audience on an interactive level, lest a small incident ends up snowballing into a PR disaster.  Some companies are uncomfortable with the idea of relinquishing a measure of control of their campaign.  Yet, the decision to not leverage the power of social media just because of others’ misfires shuts out all the potential good that can be accomplished with a little foresight.

Truth be told, the vast majority of these prominent backfires were simply a lapse in thought, and there just is no fix for stupidity.   To help you better understand the kind of campaigns we are talking about  we have listed five famous case studies in which major campaigns backfired as a result of thoughtlessness:

1.  Kenneth Cole’s Twitter Blunder: A few months ago, Kenneth Cole announced his spring collection by tweeting, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo.  Rumor is that they heard our new spring collection is available at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.” After the tweet went out, Cole came under fire for being insensitive to the plight of the Egyptian people, with some calling for a boycott of his company.  Beside fact that the tweet was not funny, Cole was clearly piggybacking on the media buzz surrounding the Egyptian revolution and the role Twitter was playing in it.  His comments trivialized the Egyptian conflict and made Cole’s brand look superficial and insensitive.  Someone from his marketing team actually thought this through and decided that mocking a violent overthrow and revolution would be a good idea to sell shoes.

Lesson Learned:  Social Media has rules and norms that communities follow.  While you might think it is cute or clever to use these to your advantage, you run a huge risk of having a well formed and well organized tide against you and your brand.  Remember, the reason you want to be on social media is the speed and ease messages spread to your target market.  Common sense would dictate that you would want to spread messages that reflect well on you and your organization.
2.  Cisco Imitates Old Spice Campaign:  Cisco (the networking technology company) tried to piggyback on the success of the “sexy Old Spice Man” campaign  by encouraging  fans to visit the Cisco Twitter accounts and tweet at “Ted from accounting” with the hashtag  #CiscoSpice. They could also comment on the blog in order to get a personalized video.  Aside from this campaign being a very blatant imitation of the highly successful Old Spice campaign (the word “spice” is even part of the Twitter handle), Cisco’s dour-looking Ted from accounting was utterly unremarkable and not engaging.  Cisco was attempting to go for parody, but Ted did not reflect the brand well.  The Old Spice Man gave off the image of sexiness and masculinity (if somewhat corny) to a brand of deodorant, while Ted made Cisco look dull and nerdy.  This kind of program cannot be fixed as it is just a bad idea from inception.  Checkout the video here

Lesson Learned:  While it is always beneficial to recognize the success of other campaigns, it is important to come off as a leader rather than a follower.  It is always best to avoid copying other campaigns, but even worse to flaunt your status as a copycat.  Aside from this, it is also important that your spokesperson is actually interesting and projects positive qualities onto your brand.

3.  Chevy’s “Make Your Own Tahoe Commercial”:  This classic blunder made some of the funniest YouTube videos of 2006.  Unfortunately, the joke ended up being at the expense of Chevy.  General Motors promoted a campaign in which they would provide users with templates by which they could design their own Chevy Tahoe commercials.   Users could arrange stock footage and music, along with their own text, to create authentic looking commercials.  The problem here is that many environmentalists created their own versions that derided the auto company for its destruction to the environment.  These videos spread like wildfire and, rather than promote the Tahoe, the most popular ads propagated its faults.  The debacle leaves one to question what good could possibly come from having people create Chevy commercials out of stock assets?  Few will share the videos and Chevy does not need to use them as a brand, nor should they want to.  Checkout the video here

Lesson Learned:  Be careful who you give the keys of your car to, as somebody may be looking to drive it off a cliff.  Social media is great for communicating.  But, there are at least 2 sides to every conversation online.  Also, if you don’t really have a strategy (and we would argue Chevy did not as creating commercial with stock footage is little more than a pre-school activity), you invite the pranksters, mean spirited and bored to control you brand image.

4.  Skittles Social Media Campaign:  In March 2009, Skittles decided to embrace social media by making their home page be their Twitter feed.  The feed not only listed Skittles’ own tweets, but also the chatter from other users that mention the brightly colored candies.  Skittles did not account for the fact that the candies were frequently mentioned in profane and inane Tweets.  Soon, Skittles homepage became a Technicolor graffiti wall of inappropriate tweets.  Aside from showing people that they were present on Twitter, it is not clear what Skittles was trying to accomplish with this campaign.

Lesson Learned:  When your strategy is to give your brand over to the whim of online pranksters, mean-spirited and bored, you should not be surprised at the result or that these people always out shout your fans.

5. Denny’s Twitter campaign:  In 2010, Denny’s printed on their menus to “join the conversation” on Twitter.  The problem was that the @Dennys account was the Twitter handle for Dennys Hsieh, a nondescript  man living in Taiwan (Denny’s owned the accounts @DennysAllNightr and @DennysGrandSlam).  Denny’s was actually directing their fans away to someone else’s Twitter. Rather than recall the menus that were sent to 1,500 restaurant locations, Denny’s tried to buy the @Dennys account from Hseih, but he was not willing to sell.  This error lasted for over four months.  This mess could have been avoided if someone had simply proofread the menus beforehand.  Denny’s marketing people should have been the first to know that they did not own the @Dennys Twitter account.

Lesson Learned:  This is truly a case of “you can’t fix stupid.”  Proofread before your print, and there is no excuse not to know your own Twitter account, especially when you are telling others to follow you on it.    There is no fix for this except good quality execution.  There is an old saying that a “C” level idea with “A” level execution is always better than the other way around.

We can all do better than this.  We have seen that social media is something that cannot be left as an afterthought.   If someone is not paying attention, a little mistake can turn into a big problem.   However, if we understand the lessons learned from the mistakes of others there is no reason to repeat them.   To under utilize social media not only keeps you from connecting to a good chunk of your audience, but also keeps you from pulling in new customers.  All it takes to succeed is thought and care.