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5 Social Media Fiascos from Businesses Who Should Know Better

iStock_000021544707MediumThere are plenty of ways your small business can use social media: you can run contests on Facebook, respond to complaints on Twitter, or just help your customers stay informed with tons and tons of vaguely humorous LOLcats.

What you shouldn’t do is exploit tragedies. Or fire the guy with the working Twitter password. Or send grotesque messages to the president. Or try to get your customers fired.

Unfortunately, even many of the biggest companies in the world haven’t quite learned that. Here are 5 of the worst social media calamities imaginable.

Congratulations on your political revolution! Now buy some handbags

The Arab Spring is sometimes referred to as the time when Twitter “came of age.” Oppressed populations in the middle east used the micro-blogging platform as a way to escape government surveillance, to gather international attention, and to organize mass protests. It was an example of Twitter at its best.

On the other hand, there’s this:


Unsurprisingly, Kenneth Cole got taken to task for being terribly horrible and horribly terrible. He apologized but that apology has, strangely enough, been removed from the internet. What a peach.

If you’re firing 60 people at once, make sure one of them isn’t running your Twitter account

HMV is a British entertainment retailer that has fallen on some hard times. In recent years, due to low sales and bad management, they’ve been forced to close stores and lay off employees en masse. Unfortunately for HMV, one of the folks they fired from their corporate office also had responsibility over their Twitter account.


Layoffs happen. Companies close. Sometimes, you might lose an employee you’d otherwise rather not. But make sure the person you put in charge of your Twitter account is a proper professional and make sure that you change those passwords when someone has left. Or more important, when they’re getting shown the door.

Step 1: Open mouth. Step 2: Insert foot.

Although you may not have heard of them, Tesco is a grocery and retail giant in Europe. They have over 6,000 stores and profits second only to Wal-Mart. They also were at the center of the horsemeat scandal a few months back.

And, really, when you’re in crisis mode, it’s probably a good idea to check your scheduled tweets:


What was a seemingly harmless tweet telling everyone goodnight suddenly morphed into an exceedingly awkward snafu. When your business is already dealing with bad PR, you’ve got a million fires to put out. You might forget a few things. But do check on that Twitter account. It seems like a small thing, but sometimes the small things have a way of getting away from you.

We can smell your bogus Facebook account from here

A year or so ago, Chic-Fil-A was embroiled in a nasty political controversy over it’s very public stance on same sex marriage. People who felt Chic-Fil-A was in the right organized a day of support, where thousands of people visited their local franchise for chicken sandwiches, while gay rights groups organized counter protests and kiss-ins.

There was also an issue with Jim Henson’s company, the folks responsible for The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. The Jim Henson Company released a statement saying they’d no longer partner with Chic-Fil-A because of their stance. Chic-Fil-A then discontinued the toys they were putting in Kid’s Meals because, ahem, they claimed children were “getting their fingers stuck” in them.

When a Facebook user called them out on this plainly phony ploy, a user he didn’t know started commenting on the thread. As it turns out, that person was fake too.


 Turns out the user, an “Abby Farle,” had been on Facebook for eight hours. It also turns out she was a stock photograph.

Chic-Fil-A was shamed online, where their reputation was already less than stellar to begin with. You might get bad press—most likely, at some point, you will—but handling it with professionalism ensures you don’t dig yourself in deeper. Online, everyone’s a detective. Don’t bother trying pulling a fast one.

While my guitar gently goes viral

United Airlines ends our roundup of don’ts, not because they messed up on social media, but because their bad customer service earned the company tons of bad press.

The story goes like this: man checks guitar. United employees break guitar. Man files claim for guitar. Man is told he did not file a claim fast enough. Man is left with broken guitar. But then, something wonderful happened: Man writes song. This song:

Check the view count on that video. It’s at 12 million. That’s 12 million people who now know United’s policies aren’t what you’d call “understanding,” 12 million people who will likely think twice before eventually flying Southwest.

What do these stories all have in common? Virality. While big companies are always looking for ways to get people talking about their products, be it a great commercial or clever video, it’s worth noting that the opposite happens too. If you’re crass or forgetful or don’t treat your your customers well, you’ll find that even the simplest of decisions can explode into a full-blown catastrophe. So be nice. Be honest. Goodwill goes a long way; bad press lasts a lifetime.

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