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In today’s world, social media is critical. However, in the grand scheme of things, the technology and the techniques are still relatively young. Consumers are using social media more than ever to find new products and services, even as it’s constantly evolving.

Unfortunately, for some companies, customers are adapting much quicker to social media changes than they are. As such, it’s easy to see how companies all over the world suffer from blunders and missteps with their social media marketing campaigns.

While a social media fail isn’t always the end of the world, it can have a profound impact on your bottom line in a world where everything goes viral the instant it’s posted online.

On the internet, everything lasts forever. The backlash to these incidents can be harsh, but the good news is that, for the most part, customers tend to forget blunders soon enough because the next big thing is already happening. Having said that, though, companies cannot forget about these blunders to avoid making the exact same mistakes.

Throughout the past decade, plenty of companies have experienced the unforgiving nature of social media. Take a look at some of their social media marketing fails and learn what you can do to avoid something similar from happening to you.

Do Your Research – American Apparel

Companies targeting the younger generation are always looking to find the next cool visual to use in their social marketing strategies. Everyone is attracted to good visuals, but for the incredibly fast-paced world of millennials, visuals reign supreme.

Around the 4th of July, 2014, the clothing brand American Apparel posted an image on their corporate Tumblr account that showed a dramatic plume of smoke shooting into the air with the hashtags #clouds and #smoke. Apparently unknown to the poster, this was a picture of the 1986 Challenger explosion, during which seven astronauts lost their lives on live television. The post was deleted soon after.

While it’s a possibility that the person posting the image wasn’t even born when this horrific incident happened, it goes to show that a little bit of research can go a long way in social media marketing. Always do your research when posting images, quotes or anything else that may be something other than what it appears to be.

Separate Personal and Corporate Accounts – Chrysler and KitchenAid

When you hire a social media specialist, you really want someone who loves to be on social media. It just comes with the territory. Unfortunately, hiring specialists who love to tweet and post a little too much could eventually lead to some crossed wires. As we can see in the cases of Chrysler and KitchenAid, sometimes personal posts make their way to corporate accounts.

In an ironic situation, the official Chrysler Twitter account posted a very denigrating and vulgar tweet about the driving ability of people in Detroit. The kicker? The tweet was posted after Chrysler began an ad campaign celebrating Detroit. Not very consistent with brand messaging. The person responsible for the tweet was fired, and the third-party company Chrysler had contracted for running their social media also lost its contract.

Another example of mixing personal and corporate accounts comes from KitchenAid, the popular kitchen appliances company. It’s safe to say that every U.S. Presidential Election is tense and stressful. A KitchenAid employee added to those tensions during the 2012 Election when they tweeted an offensive joke about President Obama’s late grandmother from the corporate handle. The CEO of KitchenAid quickly took over the account to do damage control, which worked surprisingly well.

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It’s easy to mix up personal and corporate social media accounts. There are plenty of ways to avoid this, but one of the most common is separating accounts by device. Give your social media specialists company-owned devices that are only allowed for corporate use, helping your employees leave personal accounts on personal devices.

If You Automate, Automate Well – Microsoft and the Patriots

There are many elements of social media that can be automated. Many programs help you manage liking, responding, commenting and posting. However, automating everything has some drawbacks. There’s probably a joke about robots taking over the world in here somewhere, but we’ll let the real-world examples speak for themselves.

In 2016, Microsoft unveiled Tay, a Twitter bot meant to create a “conversational understanding” between AI and humans. However, within a single day, people started tweeting racist and offensive things at the bot, which made it become racist and offensive itself. Microsoft shut the account down and no one has seen Tay since.

The New England Patriots experienced some of their own problems with automated Twitter bots back in 2014 during a campaign to be the first NFL Twitter account to reach one million followers. Twitter users could use the hashtag #1MillionPatriots and the team’s account would automatically create and tweet a jersey with the user’s Twitter handle on the back.

Of course, it wasn’t long before an incredibly racist username made it through and wreaked havoc. The Patriots deleted the tweet as quickly as possible, but the damage was already done.

Some social media automation can be incredibly helpful and convenient, especially during prolonged social media marketing campaigns. Just keep in mind that if you automate, you should have the appropriate filters and monitoring in place before the campaign starts.

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Don’t Force Connections to Current Events – Cinnabon

Plenty of people use social media to keep up with current events and post their thoughts about those events. As such, there are plenty of companies trying to do the same as a way to connect with potential customers. Unsurprisingly, many of these attempts fall flat. Even worse, some of these attempts are downright offensive.

In 2016, after Star Wars star Carrie Fisher passed away, Cinnabon took to Twitter to post a “tribute” to the late icon. Their tweet included a picture of Fisher’s most iconic character, Princess Leia, drawn in cinnamon, with a Cinnabon cinnamon roll as the character’s classic side bun hairstyle. To top off the post, they used the caption: “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” The post was tacky and tasteless in the wake of such a tragic event. The worst part? Carrie Fisher regularly spoke about how much she hated the side bun look.

Connections to current events can be incredibly effective ways to connect with potential customers, but only if done right. If your brand has nothing to do with the event taking place, don’t try to force it.

Use Trending Hashtags Appropriately – DiGiorno

It’s pretty common knowledge that using trending hashtags is a great way to gain more exposure to the people monitoring those hashtags. They’re trending for a reason, and a good social media team knows how to properly capitalize on the trends. Of course, as you’ve seen above, there are also plenty of ways to mess it up.

Enter DiGiorno pizza in 2014. In the hours before the frozen pizza tweeted, a scandal involving the suspension of NFL player Ray Rice for domestic abuse became public knowledge. In response to the scandal, women around the world started using the hashtag #WhyIStayed to open up about the reasons they stayed in violent relationships.

In a quick attempt to take advantage of the trending hashtag, as is DiGiorno’s preferred method of posting, they posted this: “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” Understandably, many people were upset about the tweet and DiGiorno quickly deleted the post and apologized, blaming a lack of research into the hashtag. To the social media specialist’s credit, they worked extra hard to respond personally to those who replied to the tweet.

This is why it’s crucial to research trending hashtags to make sure you can appropriately capitalize on them. If you don’t, you might offend a huge group of people and go down in social media fail history.

Be Smart and Responsible

In the hands of a social media-savvy employee, your social media accounts can be incredibly powerful. However, they can also be the cause of your downfall. As you create and run social media marketing campaigns, be smart and responsible. It’s okay to take longer to create a reliable campaign if it means you avoid social media fails. Remember, the internet always remembers, even if your customers don’t.


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