Ithaca Public Relations   159 Snyder Hill Road   Ithaca, NY 14850   607-280-3840
2012 is the year social media came of age. Facebook has 1 billion users,
Twitter topped 200 million monthly users, Pinterest helped fuel a shift in digital
content to a primarily visual one, and YouTube became the fourth most
popular search engine.

Here's a review of 2012's biggest social media disasters, what could have
prevented them, how those involved might have responded differently, and
how you can respond if you're ever in a similar situation.


President Obama was discussing Medicare and health care during one of the
Presidential Debates, when a KitchenAid employee accidentally tweeted the
following from KitchenAid's corporate Twitter account instead of her own
personal account:

The tweet spread like wildfire, but KitchenAid took immediate action to
resolve the situation:

The original offending tweet was deleted, KitchenAid's Corporate
Communications Director also personally tweeted apologies from the
corporate account.

The employee who sent the original offending tweet was fired, and the
Communications Director reached out to national media and offered to do
interviews so the company could explain and apologize.

The Takeaway: Put controls in place so employees must log out of corporate
social media accounts in order to use their own, and vice versa. If the situation
is serious enough, such as this one, be proactive in reaching out to the
media, so you can help shape the story versus letting the media dictate it for


Even the most die-hard fashionistas were angry when American Apparel and
The Gap encouraged their fans to shop online during Hurricane Sandy.

American Apparel sent out this email, pointing out the sale was valid only for
people in the 6 northeast states most affected by the hurricane:

The Gap issued this tweet:

We can only think that according to both fashion retailers, wearing the latest
fashions is more important than maybe losing your home to flooding, loss of
electricity/essential services, and the potential loss of life.

The Takeaway: Never attempt to profit or try to take advantage of a disaster or
tragedy. Your best course of action is to simply acknowledge it and mention
that your thoughts and/or prayers are with the people affected by it.


The Crime: Not paying attention to
why something is trending in the news.

The late-night shootings at the Aurora, CO movie theaters stopped the nation.
Celeb Boutique clearly was not paying attention to why Aurora, CO was
trending on Twitter the next morning:

American Rifleman used a scheduling tool to post this tweet. It demonstrates
the danger of using tools such as HootSuite to schedule tweets and social
media posts in advance.

American Rifleman and Celeb Boutique both deleted their tweets quickly, but
the damage was still done.

The Takeaway: Make sure you know why something is trending in the news or
social media before you post about it. Using a scheduling tool such has
HootSuite is fine, but make sure you always know what you've scheduled to
be posted, so you can change or cancel it in the event of a disaster or


Wilcoxson's Ice Cream is a regional favorite in Montana, but created a
firestorm when the CEO of the company took the totally wrong approach to
answering a fan's Facebook question:

Fans rallied around the person asking the question and sentiment toward
Wilcoxson's went negative very quickly. The CEO resiged and the company
temporarily took down its Facebook page.

The Takeaway: Questions indicate interest. A sincere answer tells your fans
you care about them and take customer service seriously. If their true motive
is to cause trouble, you'll know it soon enough and can block/delete the
person or their comments.


The CEO/Owner of the Chick-fil-A fast food chain took a public stand in
support of traditional marriage as defined by the bible, earlier this year, and
protesters took to standing in front of his restaurants with signs and calling for
boycotts. The Mayor of Boston suggested the chain should close its
restaurants there, because the CEO's position is discriminatory.

On the other hand, Chick-fil-A's supporters flocked to the restaurants to eat,
and there were lines out the door.

The Takeaway: This isn't a social media disaster per se, but the teachable
point is taking a public stand on a passionate topic can generate a lot of
publicity, even if its simply the owner of the company voicing personal
opinions. But, be prepared for the negative as much as the positive.
Chick-Fil-A was not prepared for the fallout, and its response to it caused
some PR damage that will take time to repair.


McDonalds has taken a lot of criticism about how healthy it's food is. It's also
worked hard to address the criticisms. Earlier this year, it introduced
#McDStories... part of a larger marketing/PR effort to spread good news and
get people to share happy memories about McDonalds. It backfired:

The Takeaway: Be careful about asking people to use hashtags or tags when
you're looking for one specific type of comment or response on social media.
You may be looking for the "good", but you also open yourself up for the
"bad". A better plan might be to ask a question or simply create a post of
some kind that people can comment on, so you can monitor them.

Posted 12/22/12
Top Social Media Disasters of 2012
Copyright 2005 - 2013  Ithaca Public Relations  All Rights Reserved
Straight up, no-nonsense marketing and PR advice from The Insider, the flagship e-advice column from Ithaca Public Relations. Subscribe today!
Ithaca, NY   607-280-3840