12 Worst Social Media Mistakes of 2012 (And How to Avoid Them)

January 9th, 2013 by Laura Manning

2012 was truly a year of phenomenal social campaigns by many national companies. However, with the good came plenty of bad. Here are some of the year’s worst campaigns, and how you can avoid these gaffes in your own businesses’ online marketing.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.12.27 PM 12. Kansas City Chiefs
disappointed fan tweeted at the Kansas City Chiefs in September, calling the owner greedy and unethical. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the fan took a screenshot of the offensive direct message he received back and posted the message to Reddit, where it went viral within hours.

The main takeaway from this blunder? The customer (or fan) is always right, and you are never speaking for yourself when representing a brand on social media.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.25.05 PM

11. Progressive Auto Insurance
The auto insurance company faced a huge Twitter backlash this year after a popular blogger released a post titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court”. Instead of responding to their detractors, the company replied to every tweet with the same robotic response. This, of course, attracted even more negative attention on the social media network.

Our lesson: if you’re going to respond to negative comments or tweets, take the time to personalize the replies.

10. Southwest Airlines
Southwest accidentally overcharged thousands of customers in August. While they acknowledged that their site had experienced some “technical difficulties,” they failed to note that many customers were going to have multiple charges on their credit card statement. Angry patrons took to their Facebook page, where many left displeased comments after being unable to get through to the company via phone. Southwest did not address any of these complaints, and then updated their brand cover photo, which many viewed as insensitive in the midst of an unanswered crisis.

Be proactive: You should remove any regularly “scheduled” posts during a crisis — angry consumers don’t want to see that you have time to update your status when you haven’t fixed their problem.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.06.52 PM9. American Apparel
Although they weren’t the only brand to send insensitive messages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, they are the only one who failed to apologize for their hurricane puns. They sent out a nationwide sale email that included the phrase, “In case you’re bored during the storm,” and was only available in affected states.

What more can we say? It’s never a good idea to make light of a national disaster in order to move product.

8. Chick-Fil-A
The chicken company came under fire in early 2012 for its anti-gay campaign donations. Protesters took to their Facebook page, where thousands left angry comments and disappointed messages for the company. Instead of responding to the comments with their brand page, they allegedly created a fake Facebook account to comment on each attacker’s post. This technique was outed pretty quickly, and viewed with scorn by many.

How can you avoid this? Don’t make fake profiles! It is far too easy to be tempted by this scheme in today’s digital society, but it is generally quite easy to spot a fake Facebook account.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.15.43 PM 7. KitchenAid
A common theme in Twitter gaffes this year involved accidental tweets. KitchenAid profusely apologized for its tweet making light of President Obama’s grandmother’s death, but the damage was done. A better question is why anyone would hire someone to manage their brand’s online identity who abbreviates the word “before”.

Learn from their mistakes:  Keep politics off your company’s account, and make sure you are hiring competent, careful employees to manage your social media channels.

6. National Rifle Association
The NRA’s social media strategy seems to have been updated to going dark recently, but earlier this year they faced plenty of criticism. The gun advocates tweeted “Morning Shooters – Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” the morning after the Aurora, CO theater shooting. The tweet drew tons of ire from the press, and may have lead to their silence following the Newtown, CT shooting earlier this month.

Protect yourself from controversy: Make sure your social media team is aware of national happenings and in touch with local news.

5. Hitman’s Disastrous Foray Into Social Gaming
Square Enix’s hyper-violent, edgy Hitman game series has been a huge money-maker for the gaming giant, but their attempts at capitalizing on Facebook gaming proved to be a complete failure on every level of content QA. The Hitman social media game included a variety of motivations for placing a “virtual hit” on your friend, with crass and juvenile reasons such as “her muffin top,” “her small tits,” or “his tiny penis.” Apparently blasting your friend in the face with a sniper rifle just isn’t enough of an insult.

Our (obvious) takeaway? Including blatant misogyny and insulting content in your endeavors doesn’t make you look “edgy” — it just makes you look like a jerk.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 10.12.38 AM 4. Olympic Games
The Olympic committee applied Rule 40 to every aspect of athlete’s lives this year, including Twitter. Athletes stirred up a huge controversy on the social networking site using the hashtag #WeDemandChange2012 over their right to represent brands during the Olympic Games. They argued that they received no compensation for participating in the games, while the organizers got rich off official endorsements. It raised great debate about censorship, and athletes’ right to use social media as they pleased.

Learn from the Olympics: it’s impossible to censor your opponents on social media channels.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 10.30.58 AM3. Toyota Camry
The car giant kicked off the year with a Super Bowl campaign intended to get users to tweet with the hashtag #camryeffect. Unfortunately, their campaign centered around sending spammy tweets back at anyone who used the hashtag, encouraging them to enter a contest to win a free Camry. Their accounts eventually got suspended by Twitter, which drew even more attention since they had already been verified on the social network.

Our lesson? Even legitimate contests can easily look like spam and offend users. Don’t use organic interaction on your channels as a way to push sales.

2. Celeb Boutique
The online clothing retailer tweeted a promotional bit this year using the hashtag #Aurora, which they mistakenly thought had to do with their clothing line. Unfortunately for them, it instead referred to the tragic shooting in a Colorado theater.

Don’t tweet blindly: This could’ve been easily avoided if their team had simply researched the hashtag before using it.

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.42.24 PM 1. McDonald’s
This year’s worst social media campaign came from the fast food giant, whose #McDStories hashtag was described by Forbes as being a “bashtag”. The twitterverse jumped at the chance to use the branded hashtag, but not to promote the company, but rather to ridicule its food and company principles. Tweets such as “Dude, I used to work at McDonald’s. The #McDStories I could tell would raise your hair” were everywhere on the social media network, and the hashtag is still being used negatively almost a year later.

Know your brand’s reputation: Encouraging consumers to share stories involving a company that already gets a lot of negative press is probably not the best idea. Stick with campaigns that inspire positive interaction, rather than open-ended tweet requests.

There you have it, the 12 worst social media gaffes of 2012. Fortunately, there are ways to bounce back even after the worst mistakes. See any that we missed? Let us know in the comments!