There’s a palpable air of schadenfreude that accompanies a social media mishap. Like a train wreck you just can’t look away from, you watch a brand struggle to recover just as closely as you watch Amanda Bynes at the gym. Will they make things worse? Will they make everyone else happy? Last year saw a lot of social media tactics that would make any community manager facedesk themselves. Let’s take a look back at the most interesting social media flops in the interest of learning….and rubbernecking.


The offense: Aggravating a potential customer.

What happened: When user testing site BetaPunch intercepted a tweet from a well known blogger praising a competitor they swooped in with a counter-offer. Unfortunately they failed to do their research. This particular blogger, Danielle Morrill, had used BetaPunch in the past only to have her test results tweeting publicly without her consent. She let BetaPunch know that was why she wasn’t using BetaPunch anymore only to get a response back that said, “yes 3 free tests that you never bothered to acknowledge or thank us for #classy.” Dayyyum. The exchange continued and culminated in Danielle creating a very popular blog post  titled “Why I won’t be using Beta Punch for user testing. Alternate title: How NOT to do social media for your startup.” The blog post is the third search result in Google for “BetaPunch.”

The takeaway: Don’t start a fight. It simply isn’t worth it and can have implications you’ve never considered. Or, as we say at UserVoice, “don’t be a dick.”

"You're about to become a case study."

“You’re about to become a case study.”


The offense: Failing to safeguard its social media accounts.

What happened: HMV, a global entertainment retailer, was put in a tough spot – they had to layoff some of their staff. In an impromptu meeting they gathered a bunch of their employees to give them the bad news. The layoff would be immediate. Among the staff being laid off was their 21-year-old community manager Poppy Rose Cleere (yes that’s her real name). It didn’t take long after learning that she was newly unemployed that she tweeted the following from her cell phone via HMV’s corporate account: “We’re tweeting live from HR that we’re all being fired! Exciting! #hmvXFactorFiring.” With over 70,000 followers, it’s no surprise that people took notice. Another tweet followed once HMV took notice: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’ ” With thousands of retweets, ‘shutting down Twitter’ at that point wouldn’t really matter. Read Hootsuite’s take on the ordeal here.

The takeaway: Plan for worst case scenarios. It would be reasonable to assume that firing someone would make them angry. Understanding that this may disgruntle some people, take away their access to something like Twitter if they’re a community manager before you royally upset them. Not doing so would be like telling your teenager they’re grounded when they’re still out driving your car.

She really wasn't happy.

She really wasn’t happy.

Chris Brown

The offense: Surprising no one.

What happened: Oh Chris Brown. If there was ever a man that needed to change the perceptions around him it’s Chris Brown. He’s been called all sorts of things in the past, almost all of which peg him as a woman-hater. Fresh off his ‘exchange’ with Rihanna, Chris Brown had somehow convinced his PR team that he could have his Twitter handle back. It wasn’t a great idea. It didn’t take very much time at all for him to degrade another woman – this time comedian Jenny Johnson. When Jenny took a jab at him (something he should be very used to at this point), he responded with…graphic stuff. I’ll let you read it all for yourself, but just be warned that he doesn’t really hold back. Or maybe he is holding back. This is Chris Brown we’re talking about. Anyways, this whole ordeal ended with Chris Brown getting his Twitter account taken away…again.

The takeaway: Let haters hate. There are going to be people who exist solely to pick a fight with you or your product. These people are beyond interacting with – and that’s okay. You can leave them be and let them fade away. Sometimes these people poke, prod, and try to aggravate you. Ignore it. It will make your life much, much easier.

Censored because of grossness.

Censored because of grossness.


The offense: Lack of foresight.

What happened: McDonalds is no stranger to Twitter campaigns. Perhaps they were feeling empowered after their fairly successful #MeetTheFamers campaign that helped people realize that at least some of the food they ate at McD’s was real. Regardless, when McDonald’s launched #McDstories I’m not exactly sure what they were expecting. It’s no secret that Twitter is filled with people trying to be the wittiest or the most sarcastic, so when they heard about #McDstories they used it as their personal complaint hotline. Twitter was flooded with stories that starkly contrasted to McD’s paid tweets about the magical experiences that happen inside their restaurants. With people using the hashtag to report fingernails in their Big Macs to others complaining about getting nine chicken nuggets instead of ten, the promoted hash was quickly flooded withe precisely the kind of content McDonalds was trying to prevent in the first place. Their social media manager went on record saying, “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned. It was negative enough that we about a change of course.”

The takeaway: Not all campaigns work for all brands. The “stories” hashtag is a common one on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean it will work for anyone. Knowing your audience is an important place to start when deciding what sort of campaign to launch. If you think a campaign could be easily misused, it probably will be. Adjust as necessary.

There were so many more.

Hit the hay

The offense: Insensitivity.

What happened: Ah, the good old horse meat fiasco. Super market chain Tesco was under serious fire when it turned out that their value “all beef” burgers were actually at least partially horse meat. People were outraged. It made national headlines as people felt ill with the thoughts that they may have consumed Seabiscuit. It was no doubt a sensitive situation and Tesco was in no position for any sort of controversy. Alas, during the height of their dilemma the following tweet went out: “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.” 0_o Hit the hay? Like the horses in your burgers? Like the cute little ponies I indadvertedly gobbled up at my last BBQ? While I personally got a little bit of a sick chuckle out of the tweet, others were not as amused. Turns out the tweet was a scheduled tweet that slipped through the cracks and went out unchecked. They apologized saying that they’d “never make light” of the situation.

The takeaway: In a crisis, stop all scheduled tweets. Just do it. We do this at UserVoice when there’s any sort of emergency or sensitive national issue. It doesn’t look great to push your content during a time of national mourning. (An dishonorable mention goes out to Epicurious for this.) You may be caught up putting out the fires, but take the time prevent starting new ones.



Conversation bubbles courtesy of Jurgen Appelo.