Social media is a great tool, as long as you know what you’re doing with it. Unfortunately, not everyone is an expert, and that’s not just limited to some 16-year-old with 37 Twitter followers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a corporate CEO or a lowly intern, sometimes you might hit “send” and realize within minutes that was a complete and utter mistake, leading to nothing but embarrassment and disaster for the brand.
Back in 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy decided that it was more important to talk about why gay people shouldn’t get married than it was to sell chicken. Critics wondered why Cathy would weigh in on something so polarizing, risking the blowback from a large segment of his consumer base that disagrees with his views. And when his comments quickly went viral, people naturally attacked the company on social media.
In the aftermath of Cathy’s interview, Chick-fil-A lost a contract with the Jim Henson Company, which pulled the Muppet toys in their children’s meals. In an exchange on a Facebook posting about Chick-fil-A “voluntarily” removing the toys, a “teenage Facebook user” named Abby Farle defended Chick-fil-A using a quote from the Bible.
One Facebook user decided to do some research on Abby Farle, noticing that her Facebook account was only eight hours old and her profile was a picture from a stock photo website. The profile was quickly deleted after the user was called out for being fake. Many people believe it was someone from Chick-fil-A’s Public Relations department, but they denied they were behind the account.
9. American Apparel/The Gap
The lead up to Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012 was an anxious time for the East Coast of the United States. Residents knew that a big storm was coming and the only thing they could do was board up their homes and hope for the best. In the end, Sandy was the second most costly hurricane in US history, with $62 billion in damages and 125 US citizens among the 285 people who died.
Amazingly not one, but two clothing companies used the impending disaster to shill some clothing. American Apparel sent out an email to people living in states where the storm was supposed to hit suggesting that if they were bored during the storm, there was a 36-hour sale. A lot of people believed that this was just the controversial company’s way of getting more attention.
The other company that also decided to take to the Internet to sell some clothes during the storm was The Gap. As the storm was touching down in New York, they tweeted, “All Impacted by #sandy, stay safe. We will be doing a lot of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” followed by a link to their new store in New York City. They later took down the tweet and apologized for it.
8. Kenneth Cole
In February of 2011, violent protests were in full swing in Egypt. On February 3, clothing designer Kenneth Cole Productions sent out the following tweet from the company’s official account, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online… –KC.” complete with a link to the company’s website. Making things even worse, the “KC” sign off indicated it was Kenneth Cole himself who wrote the tweet.
The tweet stayed up until the late afternoon before finally being taken down. Cole apologized on his Facebook and Twitter later that day, but the company never seemed to learn its lesson. In the fall of 2013, when troops were possibly going into Syria, they tweeted “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.”
During one of the 2012 presidential debates, President Barack Obama started talking about his grandmother, who had died the week of the 2008 election. That’s when appliance seller KitchenAid posted a very regrettable tweet, saying “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.”
You may wonder why a company like KitchenAid would take that kind of stance in such an offensive way. After all, they should just be worried about selling more mixers and fridges. Being so disrespectful to the President over a tragic event is a good way to alienate a whole lot of potential customers.
Well, it was apparently tweeted out by accident. The person who did it thought they were posting it on their own Twitter feed (which, with that spelling, makes you wonder how that individual ever got access to the company’s social media in the first place). KitchenAid immediately apologized on Twitter, and tweeted a public apology to Obama’s Twitter account.
On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and an estimated 264 were injured. Brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were responsible for the bombing, with Tamerlan shot and killed shortly after the attack, while Dzhokhar was sentenced to death this past spring.
The bombing was tragic and shocked the country, but that didn’t stop Epicurious, a popular food recipe website, from deciding to post some tweets in response the next morning. The first one read, “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!” Then a half hour later, another tweet said, “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.” Both of the tweets had links to breakfast recipes on Epicurious.
There was an uproar over the insensitivity of the tweets, which Epicurious quickly deleted and apologized for posting.
On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Once inside the school, he systematically shot six adults and 20 children before taking his own life. The crime was as horrifying as it was senseless.
Around noon that same day, the story was reaching and shocking national audiences. Discount department store Kmart posted a tweet that said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrible tragedy. #PrayforNewtown #CTShooting #Fab15Toys.” The tweet was going so well until the end, wasn’t it?
People were outraged that Kmart would include a promotional hashtag to sell toys in a condolence message regarding one of the most brutal mass murders of children in American history. Kmart said that they didn’t use the hashtag for promotional reasons, but because at the time the news broke, they were having a Twitter party using #Fab15Toys. Using the hashtag in the message was supposed to let people know that the party was over because of the tragedy.
4. The Onion
Precocious young actress Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated for Best Actress for her amazing portrayal of the character Hushpuppy in the Beasts of the Southern Wild at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013.
The hugely popular satirical news website, The Onion, had been live tweeting the proceedings but unleashed one particular message that shocked its followers when it called Wallis, well, a “See You Next Tuesday”. The tweet said, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c***, right? #Oscars2013”. Calling a nine-year-old something that ugly did not go over well in the Twitterverse, even if it was from a comedy website. An hour later, they deleted the tweet, but it did little to subside the rage of the Internet.
The next morning the CEO of the Onion apologized and said that type of tweet was not consistent with their commitment to parody and satire.
3. Home Depot
On November 5, 2013, Home Depot’s official account tweeted a picture of two black men on either side of a white man wearing a gorilla suit, with text reading, “Which drummer is not like the rest? See more @CollegeGameDay pics at hdgameday.com #HDGameDay #Football.” The tweet was also meant to promote the their sponsorship of ESPN’s College GameDay, the popular Saturday morning college football preview show.
They quickly deleted the tweet, but a screen capture was tweeted to the NAACP. After the post, Home Depot posted many, many tweets, trying to apologize. They also said they fired the media agency in charge of running their social media accounts.
When the video of former NFL star Ray Rice punching out his then-fiancé was made public, the hashtags #WhyIStayed or #WhyILeft started trending, leading to an organic discussion on social media as thousands of women spoke openly about domestic violence. It was a real, honest conversation held by victims around the world and proved eye opening for others to see that even in contemporary times, spousal abuse is still such a prevalent problem.
And then DiGiorno had to just spoil everything. The frozen food company best known for its slogan “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno” tweeted, “#WhyIStayed: You had pizza.” They immediately deleted the tweet, insisting that they didn’t understand what the hashtag was before jumping on the trend. Now they just need to apologize for not understanding what pizza is actually supposed to taste like.
Social media can be a two-way communication between business and consumer. Unfortunately for Progressive, this became a major problem in 2012.
In 2010, an unidentified driver ran a red light and killed a young woman named Katie Fisher. The driver was underinsured, but Katie’s policy had a clause that it would cover the difference. Unfortunately, Progressive refused to pay. Normally, if an insurance company doesn’t pay out what they are supposed to, the insured can sue the insurance company. Unfortunately, the Fisher family lived in Maryland, where you can’t sue insurance companies. In order to get the money, they had to sue the driver of the car – whose lawyer was from Progressive’s legal team.
Fisher’s brother wrote about his frustration with the company under the headline, “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court.” The post went viral, and people bombarded Progressive’s social media accounts. In response to the criticism, Progressive took to Twitter using an app called TwitLonger, which allows a tweet to be more than 140 characters, saying “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.”
It was a pretty cold response, which only made the situation worse. Actor Wil Wheaton made Progressive’s tweet into an audio file with a text-to-speech application, making it sound like a robot was saying the words, and said, “Dear Progressive Insurance PR Bot: This is what you sound like, you inhuman monster.” TwitLonger also banned Progressive from using their app because they said Progressive was using it to spam. After that fiasco, Progressive tried to switch gears and blame Nationwide, which covered the other driver. In the end, Progressive ended up settling with the Fishers for more than the $75,000 they were looking for in the first place.