Social Media Fails of 2013

By Lori Turner-Wilson

Social media is a terrific opportunity to engage with the marketplace and build brand loyalty. Unfortunately, along with the reward comes risk. When a social media campaign backfires, your failure can be quite public.

Here are my picks for the top four social media disasters of 2013. These cautionary tales provide lessons to be learned but should not discourage companies from considering social media as part of their strategy, as the benefits certainly outweigh the risks if strategies are executed properly and controls established.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. scheduled a tweet-up to allow students the opportunity to communicate directly with key executive Jimmy Lee. They were encouraged to tweet questions in advance of the Q&A using hashtag #AskJPM. Reportedly, more than 8000 tweets were created using this hashtag, but two out of three were negative in light of JPMorgan’s recent settlement for improperly selling mortgage-backed securities. One sample tweet: “Any plans to return illegally foreclosed homes to their rightful owners? If not, how do you justify your continued existence?” The day prior to the tweet-up, the company tweeted: “Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad idea. Back to the drawing board.” The lesson: Be aware of your public image when planning social media strategies.

Fashion guru Kenneth Cole is no stranger to social media blunders, but this one is a whopper. In September, he tweeted this in an effort to capitalize on the debate over whether the U.S. should get involved in the Syrian conflict: “Boots on the ground or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers.” Instead of owning up to the distasteful marketing ploy, Cole posted a video defending the tweet. The lesson: All publicity is not good publicity.

British grocery giant Tesco failed to turn off its automatically scheduled tweets after food investigators found horsemeat accounted for nearly a third of Everyday Value burgers sold by the chain. The unfortunate tweet read: “It’s sleepy time, so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.” The lesson: Immediately turn off scheduled tweets in the face of any brand or community crisis, whether it be local or national.

A rogue Home Depot employee posted a picture of two African American employees, with someone wearing a gorilla mask between them, all playing makeshift drums via overturned Home Depot buckets. This question accompanied the photo: “Which drummer is not like the others?” Twitter users were understandably offended. The brand quickly removed the tweet and fired the employee in question. The lesson: Establish content approval processes.

As we approach a new year of opportunity, let’s learn from these big brand blunders. With good sense and proper content approval processes, social media can be an exceptional tool for engaging with your marketplace.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (