5 Key Takeaways From Social Media Mistakes Big Brands Have Committed

The evolution of social media is a story filled with curiosity, awe and, to an extent, disbelief. It seems like just a few years back that people were using this new platform called Orkut, sending inane messages and sharing personal news and photos with “friends.”

Then Facebook happened. And the world, as we knew it, changed. Forever.

Social media became a platform for marketing and brands started using it to connect with their customers.

With more than 2 billion users of social media the world over, the marketing potential of social media is tremendous and presents opportunities for brands to engage with customers in ways never before possible by traditional forms of marketing.

But social media has its own perils, its own set of “Dos and Don’ts.” Brands missing out on the unwritten code of conduct can, and have, suffered severe backlash, not to mention a dent to their carefully acquired reputation.

The biggest feature of social media is to be in the “now.” In order to capitalize on it, many brands have posted content that was thoughtless and in bad taste. Let us see some social media fails and gaffes and more importantly what we can learn from them.

1. The “WTF!” moment of US Airways

In April 2014, a flier named Elle Rafter was unhappy that her flight got late by an hour. US Airways responded and the conversation went to and fro for some time and then US Airways dropped a very NSFW bomb on poor Elle by sharing an extremely graphic image.


While the post itself was innocuous, thanking Elle for her feedback, the accompanying image was in very bad taste (pun intended!) and conveyed sarcasm. The image stayed on their feed for more than an hour and got some pretty bad press. US Airways did finally pull it down and apologized profusely stating that it was “an honest mistake.”

Takeaway – Social media is notorious for making apparently harmful posts viral; ones you wouldn’t have dreamt could become popular. If you thought that the life of a post on social media is a few minutes, think again. Once a bad post is out the damage is done.

For a brand it is imperative that every post goes through a screening system to assure that no inappropriate posts go online. There are software like Social SignIn, Social Instinct and Crowd Control HQ that could notify senior members or editors before the post is about to go live.

2. Blackberry “loves” iPhone

In early 2015, they apparently hit its own foot with an axe when Blackberry tweeted from an iPhone. This was a shock to the millions of Blackberry fans when they saw the tweet. What Blackberryorgot to realize that when a tweet is sent from a mobile device, it invariably displays the message “sent via Twitter for …,” in this case iPhone.

Blackberry quickly removed the post, but, unfortunately, it was seen and the damage was done.

Takeaway – Well, it’s pretty simple. Never, ever, use your competitor’s products. The tweet made a lasting impression and is still being talked about, months after the gaffe.

3. That hashtag is trending! Let’s jump on it!

Now this has to be the most common mistake that brands are guilty of committing. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of major brands goofing up. Let us take two examples of brands using highly sensitive and emotional trending hashtags or events to promote their brands. It made them look plain stupid and highly insensitive.

The first is DiGiorno, the frozen pizza brand. A video involving NFL player Ray Rice and his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer was circulated and it showed Rice punching Palmer in the face. This disturbing video became the precursor to women taking to Twitter to share and discuss their relationships with abusive partners and why they chose to stay in such a relationship. The hashtag that started trending was #WhyIStayed.

Trying to leverage this trend, DiGiorno, without even considering what this hashtag was all about jumped in with an insensitive tweet that said #WhyIStayed You Had Pizza!

Another example is that of the Seattle Seahawks and their failed attempt to use a trending hashtag, #MLK Day. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a revered figure in the history of the American civil rights movement. To connect football with MLK Day, the Seattle Seahawks used the famous quote by Dr. King, “We Shall Overcome,” and showed a picture of quarterback Russell Wilson in tears after a hard-fought victory.

Although the post had good intentions, no doubt, many people were offended by the comparison of football with the fight to overcome racial discrimination.

Takeaway – Spare a few minutes to understand what a hashtag is all about before jumping on to it. Use your judgment and foresight to understand how people will react and respond to your post.

4. Brand Promotion from the Spirit World!

That a brand like Apple can goof up in their social media marketing efforts is proof that nobody can take social media marketing for granted. Social media can be the best and worst of places to market your brand. If you aren’t careful, the repercussions could be disastrous.

Comedian Joan Rivers was roped in by Apple to promote the iPhone 6 on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. As scheduled, the posts went live. The problem? They went live two weeks after Joan Rivers died. Social media users had a field day and one Twitter user posted “Well if the iPhone 6 is good enough for Joan Rivers from beyond the grave, it’s good enough for me. ;-)”

Takeaway – While scheduling posts is a good way to organize your campaigns, they need to be constantly monitored and updated regularly to reflect the latest changes. So when Joan Rivers died, her accounts should have been updated so that the posts would have been deleted and Apple would have been saved from the embarrassment, not to mention the awkwardness around the memory of the late Joan Rivers.


Brands need to understand the risks of having their social media accounts managed by inexperienced staff and should have a solid strategy and multiple checkpoints to avoid such gaffes. Any content that you post should excite, inspire and engage people and motivate them to know more about your brand. Any other kinds of posts are a waste of time and in most cases can severely backfire.

Apology, genuine and sincere, can be a balm for such misguided occasions. Brands that have made insensitive posts have been spared after genuine apologies. Whatever you post on the internet remains there forever. Brands need to be extra careful in choosing what to post lest it harms their carefully constructed reputation.

Resources related to the post: Facebook Horror Stories: 3 Mistakes to Avoid

Avinash Nair is a digital marketer at E2M, India’s premium digital marketing agency. He specializes in SEO and Social Media Marketing services. You can find him on Twitter: @AviNair52