The Most Embarrassing Corporate Social Media Mistakes

A VOIP company recently posted a video on its Facebook page. The video features some of its employees doing the “Harlem Shake.” Meanwhile customers are complaining – on the company’s Facebook page – that they’re not getting answers for their urgent requests.

Social media platforms can help companies build brand awareness, power up their advertising and marketing efforts and communicate with employees and customers. But social media can backfire. And when they do, the result can be very embarrassing.

Here are some of the most excruciating social media blunders made by well-known companies.

British Airways’ Offensive Retweet

It’s understandable for a company to monitor Twitter mentions and retweet relevant ones. Mentions aren’t always flattering and not worth retweeting. British Airways learned this firsthand when they somehow retweeted something offensive and racist.

Lesson: Don’t set your Twitter management tool to retweet every mention automatically.

Kenneth Cole Thought an Uprising was Funny

“Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online,” Kenneth Cole tweeted in the heat of the Cairo unrest.

Hashtag hijacking is fairly common practice for social media marketers. They, one way or another, find a tactic to leverage the hottest conversations. Hijacking the #Cairo hashtag wasn’t Kenneth Cole’s mistake though. The mistake was making light of a serious situation where people are fighting and dying.

Lesson: Don’t make fun of serious socio-political events.

Ragu Insults Dads

Ragu, a Unilever pasta sauce brand, wanted to get a piece of the social media action. So they spammed several dad bloggers and sent them the video below – essentially telling dads they don’t know anything about cooking.

CC Chapman got the tweet and saw the video and promptly responded with this post on his blog.  Adam Singer posted a more detailed analysis on The Future Buzz about why the campaign was such a huge fail.

Lesson: Don’t insult your target audience.

McDonald’s Hashtag Horror Story

One of the most widely covered social media blunders was McDonald’s #McDStories hashtag. The campaign was meant to promote wholesome farmer stories and how the company ensures that they only use fresh produce.

The original hashtag was #MeetTheFarmers. There were just a couple of tweets that used the #McDStories hashtag. But the hashtag took a life of its own.

Disgruntled former employees, customers with previous bad experience with the restaurant chain and some who just want to poke fun at the company began using the hashtag to post their own horror stories.

The stories got covered by The Telegraph, Forbes, The Daily Mail, and Huffington Post.

Lesson: Customers don’t care about your story. They care about THEIR stories.

Qantas Airline’s Hashtag Got Hijacked

Australian Qantas Airline grounded all its airplanes due a dispute with the unions. Soon after they launched a social media campaign encouraging customers to use the #qantasluxury hastag to post their dream in-flight experience.

Frustrated customers, of course, took the opportunity and used the hashtag to post their bad experiences.

“#QantasLuxury is dressing your staff in t-shirts that say ‘We’re Sorry’ and believing that makes up for missing a friends funeral,” says one post.

“#qantasluxury was being abandoned at Heathrow for 4 days in the snow with no customer support while trying to get home to 8mo pregnant wife!” said anther understandably upset customer.

There were thousands of users with similar grievances.

Lesson: Social media won’t fix your bigger problems.

Netflix Wasn’t Quick Enough to Acquire @Qwikster Handle

Trying to force customers to create another account on a new website was apparently a big mistake. Not making sure that you own the brand name’s handle on Twitter is plain stupid.

Jason Gilbert’s Huffington Post article describes the fiasco:

“If there is one downside of Netflix’s decision to cancel Qwikster, it is that Jason Castillo, the semi-coherent, weed-curious high-schooler who owned the Twitter handle @Qwikster, never got to extort Reed Hastings and his company for all the money that he could. The single bright side in the monumentally stupid Qwikster fiasco was the existence of @Qwikster; there was an unspoken hope that the totally undeserving, totally unprepared and likely totally blazed owner of that Twitter handle would somehow stumble into a large financial payday from Netflix, which would have represented some kind of victory-by-proxy for all of those customers stupefied by Netflix’s stupefying decision to split the services in the first place.”

Lesson: Don’t forget to cover the basics.

Chrysler Gave the Keys to the Wrong Driver

“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**** drive,” Tweeted @ChryslerAutos.

It was obviously a mistake. Staffer got fired. Agency lost the job too.

Lesson: Careful who you give the keys to.

These social media mistakes have become a classic study for marketing professionals on what not to do. While we can’t determine in advance how people would react to our social media marketing efforts, there are some basic principles that we can adhere to so we can minimize the possibility of embarrassing mistakes.

Actionable Tips

Social media is not a magic bullet that will make all your marketing problems go away. If you have poor customer support, be ready to receive harsh criticisms on Facebook or Twitter.

It’s not the place to toot your own horn either. Make the customers the hero. Understand them better by asking some of them first before launching a full-scale campaign. In only costs 10 cents per response on Google Surveys.

Be sensitive to socio-political issues. Don’t just jump in a conversation simply because it’s trending. Spend a few minutes finding more information before joining an ongoing conversation. This may sound simple and common sense but you’ll be surprised how many companies ignore this.

Do you know other social media fails worth sharing? Tell us about it in the comments section.

About the author: Arvin Buising is an online marketing professional and author. He is part of the marketing team that promotes, a site that provides personalized coasters


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  1. Yes, social media can be embarrass when they cant give immediately the customers what they want in response to update the issues.

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