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September 5, 2014

Why Social Media Can Be Fatal for Your Company

Image courtesy of (jscreationzs)/

With experts attributing about 1/3 of all the time we spend online to social media, it’s hard for any brand to deny the allure of going social. Marketers go where their audiences dwell, and just about everyone is tied to at least one social media platform. Please do not mistake this mass consciousness as a space where anything goes. There are numerous social media horror stories that illustrate it can be brand suicide.

The bottom line is this: if you don’t know how to use social in a way that elevates your company, you may in fact cause irreparable damage. To prevent these mistakes from taking down your viable business, heed the warnings the brands who have gone before you just didn’t see coming. We’ll examine a few key public mistakes, and discuss ways your brand can prevent an epic social failure.

McDonalds: Be Careful What You Wish For

Anyone watching the #alsicebucketchallenge knows the immense power of a viral hashtag campaign. While ALS, the non-profit behind the campaign, has received a small spotlight of backlash, most of the press has been insanely positive and uplifting for their overall awareness.

If, however, your brand is controversial, be wary of attempting a hashtag movement. McDonalds, I’m talking to you.

Over a year ago, this fast food giant decided to launch a full-scale social campaign asking folks to recall their earliest Happy Meal memories, attached with #McDStories. Yes, a few folks followed suit and posted warm and fuzzy stories. But the haters came out in spades, and memories like this were shared:

Should McDonalds have known better? Without a doubt. If you’re not keeping tabs on what the masses are saying about your brand, you’ll find out the hard way. McDonalds has known for decades that many take their practices to task. Asking the public, then, to weigh-in in this manner was a huge can of worms. And once launched, #McDStories was a very difficult campaign to stop and recover from.

It’s OK if you’re controversial; just keep that in mind as you chart out how to make your content viral. Don’t give people a reason to share any negative experiences. This requires more creativity, but better to spend your prowess here than in massive recovery mode once the damage has been done.

Boners BBQ: A Reminder That, Even in Social Media, the Customer is Always Right

Boners BBQ took the 2012 award for worst social media behavior when they decided to use the public platform to berate a customer for leaving a negative Yelp review. Let this be a prime lesson in what not to do – ever ever ever.

When an unhappy customer took her tale to Yelp, she did so in a well written and diplomatic fashion – there were even positive remarks made, so it wasn’t just an ill-informed tirade. As a payback, however, Boners left a scathing Facebook post about her, including posting her photograph for all to see. They then used profanity in discussing not only their view of the customer, but any commenter that dared to not support their position.

If you think this is just common sense, think again. Brands commit social suicide daily by using the space to attack those that attempt to provide feedback. Don’t ever resort to such retaliation. Whoever manages your social profiles must be an expert at taking negative feedback and spinning it all into a positive. Be gracious and grateful for any share. Offer coupons to angry customers, or at least apologize for the situation and offer to make things right. Resorting to name calling and offensive language can create a movement so swift, you can wind up without a loyal fan base in no time flat.

Celeb Boutique and American Apparel: Awareness About Current Events is Crucial

There’s a cutting edge marketing technique wisely utilized by many these days called ‘newsjacking’ ( In a nutshell, this tactic involves immediate integration of live events into successful marketing campaigns. Things that happen on telecasts like the Emmys are key, as are trending news events.

This is a delicate balance, however, as emotions run high when events are transpiring. If you choose to integrate occurrences that involve tragedy or destruction, it’s even more imperative to do so carefully, and with obvious compassion.

For lessons in how not to execute newsjacking on social media, we have two perfect examples. The first is from a clothing boutique in Aurora, CO called Celeb Boutique. Their social media manager noticed that, on the day of the Aurora shootings, #Aurora was trending. Instead of uncovering why that might be, they jumped in on the action. Here was their first related tweet:

You can imagine the firestorm of anger that ensued, and rightfully so.

American Apparel showed an even deeper lack of compassion or awareness during Hurricane Sandy. Celeb Boutique was simply uninformed. American Apparel actually knew about the devastating storm, and chose to make light of it for marketing purposes all the same. Why they thought this would be a useful tactic is unclear. Here is the graphic they used in the social space as the storm ravaged the nation:

The moral of the story here is simple: human tragedy is never a good marketing angle unless you’re a nonprofit looking to truly help those who you are speaking about. Both of these brands have endured loads of negative media thanks to these ignorant and inexcusable snafus.

Social media is serious business. The level of exposure is epic, and that is both a blessing and a curse. If you resonate with your audience, there’s no limit to your potential reach. If you offend or alienate them, you could wake up one morning without any customers or support. Tread carefully and intelligently. In the end, just cater to your demographic, in every way possible.

What are some other dangers of social media? If you have a horror story you learned from, please share it with us!


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile