Lessons Learned from Brands’ Social Media Mistakes

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.59.02 PMCloaked by relative anonymity, the social media sphere fosters what is often a harsh and unforgiving environment. The demand to deliver quality content constantly is a daily one for brands.

With such demand, a number of messages fall through the cracks of social media best practices and become fodder for criticism. These careless mistakes in the creation and implementation of content can range from embarrassing to downright offensive, vastly diverging from the brand’s intent.

According to Henry Ford, “the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing,” so let’s take a look at some recent fiascos that remind us of some of the best ways to save your message before it becomes a sinking ship:

New England Patriots

Human error is not the only kind of misstep that leads to social media failures: Recently, the Patriots created a Twitter campaign in which, thanks to its 1 millionth follower, the team would create “digital jerseys” for everyone who retweeted the announcement. This simple idea of creating a jersey through an automated algorithm is where things went wrong:


Even though the tweet was unable to be seen by non-followers of this account, it was only a matter of hours until the message received over 1,000 retweets.

Although the Patriots didn’t mean to support such a blatantly offensive tweet, this is a prime example of why automated messages—though easy and time-efficient—can often produce outrageous, insensitive messages and unwanted attention.

Lesson learned:

Right idea, wrong implementation: with social media platforms, human interaction and messages always win. Though the Patriots most likely used an automated system to produce as many responses as possible, its lack of content scanning for online trolls created a tweet that will definitely have people talking about the team—and not in a good way.

Dave & Buster’s

Are you banging your head against your desk? It’s probably because you just saw Dave & Buster’s racially-charged tweet. The brand thought it would be funny to create a message for the franchise’s Taco Tuesday that clearly overstepped the boundaries of what is appropriate. Though someone in Dave & Buster’s social media department probably thought this audacious tweet would earn the brand a few laughs, Twitter users were not amused.

Dave and Busters 1

The brand quickly apologized, but it was too late: Twitter followers were already urging the company to “just deactivate now.”

Lesson learned:

If your tweet sounds like it might cross a line, it probably will. Think about what your message is implying before producing possibly offensive messages that could cause a great deal of regret.

J.P. Morgan

This example is truly one for the ages: J.P. Morgan Chase recently passed the one-year anniversary for its #AskJPM twitter failure. Six minutes after JPMorgan Chase offered Twitter’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, the company tweeted, “What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm? Tweet a Q using #Ask JPM.” The call-to-action seemed enthusiastic, inviting and well intentioned. What could go wrong? Considering the bank’s past reputation, a lot.

The company had just been fined $920 million over a trading loss that stemmed from bad mortgage loans. Jimmy Lee, who helped to launch the Twitter offering, was chosen to answer the questions on behalf of the bank. Needless to say, the corporation was not ready to handle the barrage of attacks that quickly followed:

Though the bank had worked with brand giants like G.M. and Facebook, the company was quickly overwhelmed and underprepared to deal with the wrath of Twitter users.

Lessons learned:

The premise of Twitter is to create a space that allows individuals an equal chance to voice opinions, whether positive or negative. Before creating a call-to-action, consider the full possibilities of what it can be used for in relation to external circumstances. As the saying says, “Timing is everything.”


Leading by Example: Gillette

The shaving company eagerly shared with Facebook fans a comparison of its first and latest razor designs to celebrate the brand’s 110th anniversary.

Gillette 1

Gillette 2

Lesson learned:

Even when social media messages go awry, there are ways to handle the situation in a professional, controlled manner. Gillette shows that being placed in a horrible position doesn’t need to incite an equally horrible response. The brand stayed upbeat, involved and helpful.

Social media is a powerful tool, and with power comes responsibility and awareness. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided with clearer insight, sensitivity, resources and safeguards. Still, the rules of social media are that there are none—any message can be placed online, and it can be met with an equally variable response.

When these calls-to-actions go wrong (as they often do), take a page from Gillette: A brand will not be able to beat thousands of fans’ agitated, hurt or confused responses, so join them in the conversation. Listen to what’s wrong and act as a resource for sharing positivity, offering explanations and alternative solutions.


**Written by Elise Yancey, Public Relations major at Boston University (2015)

451 Marketing

From the team at 451 Marketing @451Marketing!

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