Social media fails – a cautionary tale

Krista Sylvester - Writer 


Social media fails – we love reading about them - when they aren’t happening to us, that is.

There have been so many high profile social media mistakes that make us roll our eyes and we just can’t believe that they are real. Some make us laugh, most make us cringe and many make our blood boil. That doesn’t mean that most Top 10 Social Media Blunders lists aren’t entertaining to read.

But what happens if you find yourself on the wrong side of a social media blunder? Well, you don’t want to find out, so the best way to deal with a social media fail is to avoid it altogether. Sounds simple right? Well, it can be.  

Let’s take a look at a few highly publicized mistakes that likely cost some people their jobs, and learn how to avoid them.

  1. FAIL - #askSeaWorld –This social media fail is usually at the top of every list and for good reason as it had all of the ingredients of a disaster. First, you take a highly controversial company and you mix it with a Twitter campaign that allows free-thinking users to ask unfiltered questions and voila! What could possibly go wrong? Well, for SeaWorld – everything. On the heels of the contentious documentary Blackfish, SeaWorld thought it was a good idea to have Twitter users “ask them anything”. And ask they did; from angry tweets accusing the park of abusing animals, to sarcastic tweets shaming the company and everything in between, SeaWorld took a beating, and some would say, rightfully so.

    LESSON – Well, if your company is even remotely disliked in the media or has a contentious past or overall just doesn’t want people asking unfiltered questions, just don’t do it. Don’t create a campaign that allows people to ask you questions you might not what to answer – or for that matter, don’t want people answering for you.  If you want to let your followers have a peek into your company, perhaps have them email questions that you can filter and answer through your social media – ones that don’t feed the trolls.  


  1. FAIL – Miracle Mattress – This is one of the most cringe-worthy fails out there and you won’t believe it even made it to the cutting room floor. Somehow, this mattress company thought it was a good idea to promote their “twin tower” sale on of all days – you guessed it – 9/11. It gets worse but I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and it ended with death threats against the company and the company folded - forever. Yikes.

    LESSON – This is going to be a short and concise lesson but NEVER, EVER USE HUMOUR WITH A TRAGEDY TO PROMOTE YOUR PRODUCTS. Ever. Don’t make fun of historical events. Don’t use the anniversaries of tragedies to try to be funny. Just... don’t. Not that you would. But don’t. While this level of insensitivity is rare, it could happen on a smaller scale if you try to take advantage of events, situations or hashtags that just aren’t the right fit and there can be huge consequences.


  1. FAIL – American Apparel – Companies like to share photos and images on their social media and sometimes it can end very badly if not done right. Take American Apparel for example, who shared an image of #smoke and #clouds on the Fourth of July in 2014. At least that’s what they thought they were sharing – it turned out to be a photo shopped image of the Challenger space shuttle from 1986 – while it was exploding. Whoops.

    LESSON – This lesson can apply to anyone but be very careful when sourcing and using images for social media. There have been many high profile mistakes of companies using completely wrong images or even NSFW images – we’re looking at you American Airlines – and there have been repercussions. Not to mention trademarks and copyright issues, so be sure to fact check where you get your photos from and ensure they are correct.


  1. FAIL – Seattle Seahawks – It’s not just companies and organizations that make social media blunders; celebrities, sports stars and role models are not exempt from fast fingers and silly thinking. Take the 2016 Seattle Seahawks, for example. Sure, they came from behind to win their NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers and were heading to the Superbowl championship game. Exciting. But whoever controls the team’s Twitter page found themselves on the wrong side of history when they tweeted a picture of quarterback Russell Wilson with a superimposed quote from Martin Luther King in regards to #MLK day celebrating civil rights that stated “we shall overcome.”

    LESSON– It’s generally not a good idea to use a historically celebrated event for something other than that. The best lesson here is to not use trending hashtags in relation to events, situations or issues that aren’t on the same level. Sure, people love watching sports and will celebrate a team’s comeback win but mixing that situation with something as historic, important and monumental as Martin Luther King and civil rights is just wrong.


  1. FAIL – IHOP – Oh, pancakes are delicious, aren’t they? All that syrup and butter and… oh, wait. Flatness? The breakfast food chain caused quite the uproar last year when they tweeted a picture of a stack of pancakes with butter and syrup with the caption “flat but has a GREAT personality.” What?!

    LESSON - That comparison just fell… well, flat – because it’s not okay to compare food to women’s breasts and then make fun them. Sure, it’s edgy and some people probably found it humorous but the lesson here is to generally not make jokes that can be considered offensive. Perhaps don’t make jokes about women, minorities or really, anyone, for that matter. It’s best to err on the side of caution when it comes to humour.

There are many more mistakes and lessons to learn from social media blunders, although the main one can be summed up as; think before you post – and then think again!