When Social Media Backfires

By: Taylor Daine

Social media is like a chainsaw: indispensable when used well, disastrous when used carelessly. Surely you’ve seen a friend on Facebook or Twitter post something they shouldn’t have, be it a status, a picture or even just a reply to someone else’s update. People can lose jobs, friends and money because of what they post online, and businesses can stand to lose even more. The best way to prevent future mistakes is to study the past, so let’s take a look at some blunders made by popular businesses, and how you can avoid making the same ones.

Blunder #1 — Careless Re-blogging

Perpetrator: American Apparel

At first glance, one might mistake this for a simple and vivid design — that’s exactly what the American Apparel employee thought when they re-blogged it from another source. Of course, it’s not a simple design at all, it’s the smoke from the 1986 Challenger explosion — a tragedy broadcast on live television to millions of people. Needless to say, the company was the target of outrage for seeming to make light of the event.

Social media makes it incredibly easy to share content from others, but that ease also removes the barriers to creation that may make the sharer think twice about posting a piece of content. Be critical when retweeting or re-blogging, lest your business suffer the same pratfall.

Blunder #2 — Carelessly Jumping onto Trends

Perpetrators: DiGiorno Pizza, Epicurious

Just as important as what you say on social media is in what context you say it. Removed from its context, this tweet from DiGiorno is innocuous and even a little funny. But your mind would most definitely change if you were told the hashtag #WhyIStayed was an outlet for victims of domestic abuse to voice the pressures they faced from their abusers to stay with them.

Not researching the hashtag made the company appear to be crass and unsympathetic to victims, obviously the opposite image that a business would want to convey.

These tweets from foodie haven Epicurious display another facet of this blunder: hopping onto the coattails of a breaking story to bolster business. The event in this case was the Boston Marathon Bombing, and you don’t have to see the response to Epicurious’s tweets to come to the same conclusion: they are insensitive and completely tone-deaf.

This isn’t to say that businesses can never approach sensitive topics, but they must do so knowing the impact their words can have, and to tread carefully when making even seemingly safe posts.

Blunder #3 — Not Understanding the Platform

Perpetrators: LG, KitchenAid

This tweet from LG’s French Twitter account attempted to take advantage of the reported problem with bending iPhones by saying “Our smartphones don’t bend, they’re naturally curved,” accompanied with a picture of LG’s new smartphone.

The problem?

You may have noticed the “via Twitter for iPhone” at the bottom, meaning it was posted from an Apple device. Do you think LG wants to give Apple free advertising on their Twitter account, especially when that same account tries to throw shade at the same competitor? Probably not.

If your business uses social media, you need to monitor not only what you say, but make sure you’re aware of how exactly the platform works, or risk alienating that audience you’re trying to attract.

This tweet from KitchenAid is less a problem with not understanding the platform, more with not paying attention to the platform. After the backlash from this tweet, KitchenAid claimed that it was due to one of their social media writers simply not logging out of the corporate account and logging into their personal account to post a politically-charged tweet. By the time they could erase it, the damage was done, with the company being mocked for not only the opinion, but also the atrocious grammar.

Knowing who has access to your company’s social media and on what devices is the key to preventing similar accidents for your business.

Blunder No More

Social media is ever-changing, but the mistakes made on any platform will almost always come from the same roots: lack of knowledge and careless usage. As long as you keep yourself informed and treat the tool with respect, social media can do wonders for your business. If I haven’t scared you off with talk of backfiring, it may be time to recommit yourself to your business’s social media. Take a look at our Social Media Starter Kit to get on the right track to engaging audiences and making sales.

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