When Social Media Marketing Goes All Wrong


When done right, social media can be your best friend. But, if it is executed poorly or carelessly, it can be ineffective, and worse, harmful. As we often say around here, social media is simply another tool for marketing. Since you wouldn’t jump into a print campaign without carefully planning it out, you shouldn’t jump into a social media campaign either.

Social media gives brands the opportunity to connect with their clients and customers in a much more personal way than traditional marketing channels. It also creates a means for conversation, thus building a two-way communication model. This is a huge opportunity, but it doesn’t mean that planning or strategizing aren’t required. It’s actually quite the contrary.

Take, for instance, the companies that try to capitalize on a news event. In some cases this works well such as when brands use social media to tie in hit shows like “The Voice” or the recent “Breaking Bad” series finale. Or, on a local level, when an area has gotten a lot of rain, a shoe store could capitalize on it by running a special on a rain boots. This is good marketing utilizing social media for quick reach.

However, this idea can quickly turn the other way. When the tragedy that was Hurricane Sandy hit, strangely enough, some brands tried to “take advantage” of a miscalculated opportunity, if you will. Gap is one brand that fell into this trap with a tweet encouraging those impacted by the storm to shop on Gap.com:

Gap Tweet during Hurricane Sandy

Also, during Hurricane Sandy, American Apparel sent an email blast promoting a sale “in case you’re bored during the storm:”

American Apparel and Hurricane Sandy

Jay Baer over at Convince & Convert came across another social media marketing faux pa involving the Facebook page of Evansville Regional Airport. Although they have since removed the post, Baer did pull some text prior to the removal:

We just saw a tweet from Google facts that an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they save $500,000 in fuel!!! Insert your women drive jokes below – haha!

As he explains, this “gaping, self-inflicted social media wound” has multiple problems and received tremendous flack in return. One of the biggest issues is the fact that the post has no link or photo to back the story. Without any type of reference at all, it simply doesn’t make sense. Beyond this, it alienates half its audience, and it includes inaccurate information, among many other erroneous issues.

The bigger issue though is that there are some events that shouldn’t be exploited. It’s safe to say that tragedies fall into this category. There are other elements that brands must consider as well before jumping into a campaign.

For starters, brands need to consider the perception you portray. Perception matters – end of story. Brands need to think about what their audience thinks of them. Social media is about creating a face for your business, so it’s very important to think before posting.

Secondly, not everyone gets the same humor. For instance, the British are known for their dry wit, but this isn’t for everyone. Understand that there are probably very few themes that are universally funny. Humor depends on personalities, so when social media is involved, humor can be risky.

Another factor that is important to note is that viral is a possibility. That would be about right, wouldn’t it? You try and try to produce a viral campaign and then the bit you wouldn’t want to go viral gets the whole social media mob effect.

Fourthly, representation is critical for a brand. The individual or individuals that represent your company should be carefully chosen. Often, there are multiple people who have access to a company account. If this is the case, there should be at least one very trusted person who delegates what should and should not be posted to avoid any crises.

Lastly, monitoring is key. You never know what may happen, so it’s critical for your brand’s reputation to monitor your social channels closely. It’s also important to set up alerts, such as on Facebook, to deplete a potential issue before it blows up. In addition, there is software for social media management that can be beneficial as well, some of which is free and other forms that are paid.

Ultimately, remember that just as something on social media could take your company to the next level, it could take it backward just as quickly and you’d be faced with a reputation management issue.


Abby Johnson

Abby brings a unique perspective to the mix because her background consists of both traditional broadcast and public relations to now the world of online. She is very skilled at looking at the big picture and understanding how to get the message across to a particular audience.

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