5 Examples of Social Marketing Mishaps (And What You Can Learn From Them)

Great brands (even innovative ones) have long struggled to become social media savvy. Traditional marketers haven’t always understood the tone, pace and technology necessary to reach people on social platforms.

Add the fact that social platforms are fast paced, reactionary, inherently engaging, and therefore more human than most media campaigns, and the likelihood for mistakes becomes high.

The situation has improved as social media has permeated everyday life, but the internet has produced its fair share of social media gaffes.

Here are a few examples that can serve as a warning to marketers.

1. Don’t Try To Coerce Your Way Into Positive Reviews

Every local business owner is faced with at least one bad review that they wish they could make disappear. And Union Street Guest House, a hotel in upstate New York, tried to do just that by attempting to fine a wedding party $500 for every negative online review written by their guests.

union guest house bad review

Yikes! Union Street Guest House backtracked and claimed the clause was a joke that they never enforced, but not before this reputation damaging post spread like wildfire.

In the end, there’s nothing business can do about irate reviews other than trying to open up a transparent dialogue and making sure the majority of your clientele has enough positive things to rave about online to keep your reputation intact.

In fact, responding sincerely to a poor review by apologizing and identifying publicly the steps you plan to take to remedy a situation can sometimes be more impressive than just a blanket positive review, especially if the once disgruntled customer is converted to a satisfied one in the process.

2. Never, Ever Automate User-Generated Content

Crowd-sourcing content is a great way for brands to show appreciation for their consumers while engaging with them on social channels. The “Straight Outta Somewhere” meme generator promoting “Straight Out of Compton,” for instance, was a smash success.

The New England Patriots in 2014 had a similar, fun idea, where users who interacted with the brand on Twitter received a tweet with an auto-generated graphic of a Patriots Jersey with their Twitter handle. And, because the internet is, well, the internet, people took advantage.


The New England Patriots Twitter was soon tweeting to its following jerseys emblazoned with insults and hate speech and anything else internet trolls could think of.

3. Don’t Go Negative

Humor is one of a social media marketer’s most compelling tools. If you can make your audience laugh, you can win their hearts. But humor at the expense of someone else is always tricky. Innocent jabs at famous figures are a risky endeavor that may or may not pay off.

Pepsi Sweden learned this the hard way when they posted on ad on their Facebook page of famous Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo as a voodoo doll laid across train tracks. Sweden was set to play Portugal in a World Cup qualifier.

pepsi ronaldo

But Portuguese Pepsi fans weren’t amused, and a Portuguese page advocating the boycott of Pepsi quickly amassed 130,000 likes in a day. Pepsi offered an apology and removed the posts.

The lesson? Know your audience really, really well. While you may get a chuckle from one half of your consumers, you may easily offend the other. And if you’re not sure, just err on the side of positivity.

4. Check Your Scheduled Programming

This one is so important. It’s easy to put social media on auto-pilot, and the impulse of many is to queue up material for weeks or even months. But in a medium where context is everything, the rapidly changing news cycle or your own PR nightmares can cause many social media disasters. Nothing make a brand feel less engaging and relevant than obviously pre-canned tweets, and its only that much worse when the tweet is clearly out of sync with current events.

In 2013, British grocery chain Tesco was in hot water after traces of horse meat were found in beef sold in their stores. An already bad situation got worse when a pre-scheduled tweet went out saying “It’s sleepy time, so we’re off to hit the hay!”

Tesco Tweets

The irony was not lost on the internet, which quickly made the tweet viral. Tesco sent out a swift apology, saying it was “scheduled before we know of the current situation.” And yes, everyone knows that brands can and do scheduled tweets… but you don’t want any given tweet to appear obviously prescheduled.

5. Research Your Hashtags

In the fast-paced Twitterverse, it’s important to get into trending conversations and hashtags early. But that shouldn’t stop you from researching hashtags, and realizing you’re about to make a terribly offensive joke.

digiorno why I stayed

#WhyIStayed was then trending to spread awareness about domestic violence, and shared survivors stories of why they staid with the abusive partner. DiGiorno quickly deleted the tweet and apologized, but not before the internet caught on.

These embarrassing snafus can serve as a cautionary tale, but the lessons are clear. When it comes to social media marketing honesty, directness, diligence and clarity are more important than ever.