Marketers use a variety of social media tricks to entice and treat their customers and prospects. Unfortunately, those tricks sometimes backfire and burn the company instead. The scariest thing is that even innocuous social media posts written by the savviest of marketers can blow up without warning.
Fortunately, we can learn from their mistakes if we just pay as much attention to them as consumers do. Here are 13 scary ways social media marketers went wrong and how those mistakes can be avoided.
1. Disastrous campaigns born of, well, disasters.
Sometimes marketers are more attuned to timing than to good taste and blast away with a special disaster plug. Case in point: fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s infamous tweet during the violent riots in Egypt in 2011. "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is that they heard our new spring collection is now available online at [URL] -KC." Be forewarned dear marketers: There is a time and place for leveraging a social media trend. If you tie your product to a disaster or an episode of violence, your company will instantly be a casualty. Even if your company is offering aid during a disaster, be very careful how you make that known.
2. Tackling sporting events with Wham! Bam! Spam-a-lot.
Toyota got all psyched over its “Win a Camry for yourself and one for your friend too” promotion, called the “Camry Effect a Friend Giveaway!,” during the Super Bowl this year. Toyota opened several Twitter accounts and spammed the heck out of anyone and everyone using any hashtags or keywords referring to the football game, teams, and players. Numerous users found their Twitter feeds soaked in Camry ads as a result, and the backlash got nasty fast.
Lesson to be learned: Treat social media like a cocktail party. You wouldn’t just run around the room blurting out your message to strangers at the party over and over again would you? Don’t do that on Twitter either. Converse with people on Twitter. Don’t just blast spam everywhere, especially not from multiple accounts at the same time.
3. Pushing the product above public interest.
Always remember that while the product or promotion may be the most important thing in your world, it is not the most important thing in the world. Pizza Hut thought it would be cute to waste the entire nation’s time, as well as the time of the candidates, to get an attendee at a recent presidential debate to use his or her one question to ask “sausage or pepperoni?” In return, said questioner would get free pizzas for life. The result was that the public was furious and Pizza Hut was sandblasted with negative publicity. Pizza Hut scaled back the promotion to a routine online giveaway.
4. Trying to generate excitement and starting a riot instead.
Kaskade, a very popular DJ, tweeted to his 250+ thousand followers in Hollywood about his upcoming performance at a block party. The result of Kaskade’s excited tweet was a full-scale riot with vandalized cop cars, multiple arrests and violence galore.
Lesson to be learned: Fully consider all possible effects of a social media message, among which can be inviting too many people to participate.
5. Forgetting social media exists.
Airline companies may consider damaged baggage as just par for the course, but that doesn’t mean the passengers are as laid back about it. When the airline would not immediately take responsibility for Dave Carroll’s wrecked guitar, he took to YouTube and blasted United Airlines with a music video seen by more than 150 million viewers around the world.
Lesson to be learned: Don’t assume the little guy is powerless and has to accept your company policies. Remember social media exists and your customers aren’t afraid to use it! Be prepared to respond when the consumer’s message is not complementary to your business. (What would you do in United’s position?)
6. Melding personal and business into one disastrous combo.
Take heed not to collide with your own company on social media if you wish either to prosper. Learn from the actions of GoDaddy’s CEO and the subsequent backlash. Bob Parsons alienated his customers, first by posting a video of him killing an elephant, and again when he announced he supported the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). GoDaddy lost tens of thousands of paying accounts because of those actions before changing its stance on SOPA. Parsons was soon replaced by Warren Adelman.
7. Guilty by associations you never meant to make.
“I had my university email associated with my Facebook account, so when I was made an admin of the client’s page they thought they were handing it over to a college student,” says Mike Bal, digital marketing director at Baseline21, a digital marketing group. Lesson learned? “Your personal presence has to be as polished as the brand you represent. Nothing is private, and people can figure out who's behind the curtains pretty quickly,” says Bal.
8. Forgetting to customize posts because of the need for speed.
A rookie mistake makes a big difference when you're sharing a link to a page with multiple pictures of somewhat racy content. “I was once sharing a post from Men's Health about nutrition,” says Bal, “and it put up the image of their Big Book of Sex without me noticing. That client didn't have anything against sex but it's not what they wanted to be pushing to their customers.”
9. Winning on the promotion but failing on the event.
Corey Christiansen, social media strategist at Metia, a digital marketing agency, was recently at a launch party for a cool new app. “They had a TV showing a stream of tweets that used a special hashtag they created, another TV showing their Facebook page, and yet another showing photos being taken in their photo booth,” Christiansen recalls. So far, so good.
“Where they failed is actually responding to people who used the hashtag and posted on their Facebook page,” he says. “There were several tweets being shown, including my own, complaining about their developers not being able to actually load their app onto peoples phones. After all it was a launch party. Even though I had mentioned the company and used their hashtag, I received no reply.”
Lesson learned: If your company goes to the trouble of creating a social presence, be present. Follow through by being social, and interacting both in person and online.
10. Venting frustration with customers about customers.
Sometimes company reps don’t think about who the customers really are and let loose with an offensive post. For example, last year a media relations employee tweeted on the ChryslerAutos Twitter account: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.” Umm, many Chrysler customers live and drive in Detroit, dude.
Lesson learned: If you must vent, go cuss the cat instead of hitting send. When you speak to customers, show some respect.
11. Mixing up social media accounts.
Sometimes people post in error, as when the American Red Cross employee tweeted about drinking beer, instead of posting to a different account. Pay close attention to what you’re posting where or risk ending up confessing your sins to all your employer’s customers.
The real lesson is not the human error but treating it with grace and transparency. The Red Cross handled the mix up incredibly well by tweeting humorously: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."
12. Mistakenly making that which was private, public.
Google engineer Steve Yegge accidently published an internal memo kvetching about G+ as a social network. Before he could catch the error and remove it, the memo was shared on the network. You can see the entire hush-hush internal Google memo on Rip Rowan’s G+ page complete with Yegge’s original, albeit accidental, post.
Lesson to be learned: Look before you click Send.
13. Using shortcuts to undercut a business account.
It started well, for one law firm client Dawn McGruer, social media specialist at The Digital and Social Media Academy, dealt with. The company merrily setup and customized their business page, recruited several thousand fans, and was getting a high level of engagement and reach through their posts..
Except – After setting up the group and inviting all his contacts, the social guy at the law firm revisited its content the next week. That social media engagement? The client contact found to his horror that his stag party photos were a key feature of the activity. “Suddenly all his private – and very much nonwork related – posts were public for all to see. This gentlemen was dismissed from the law firm shortly after his social media marketing mistake!” reported McGruer.
Lesson to be learned: Import nothing from personal accounts to business accounts to avoid embarrassment.