Learning From Big Social Media Blunders

By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Advertising Age just published its Book of Ten’s issue. In it they chronicle this year’s Top 10 Social Media Blunders. The list is entertaining and disheartening. Entertaining because of the shenanigans and plain idiotic social media mistakes committed by some very smart people. Disheartening because nervous businesses considering social media may unduly focus on the blunders and ignore the benefits.

Today, I’ll take a moment to speculate “why” the blunders happened and how businesses can learn from their less fortunate brethren’s mistakes.

Dropping the “F” Bomb

The Blunder: New Media Strategies employee mistakenly skewers Detroit drivers from the @ChryslerAutos twitter account. Although the tweet was caught and deleted within minutes, the damage to a career and a high-prestige social media account was done.  New Media Strategies fired the employee and Chrysler Fired New Media Strategies.

Why It Happened: The scuttlebutt is that this employee managed his personal and client accounts with the same Twitter management tool. A small lapse in attention easily took his personal tweet and broadcasted it to the world.


Set a firm policy that personal tweeting should not happen from a company sponsored and administered tool like Hootsuite. Since a mis-tweet could be dire, companies should also consider restricting tweeting from company computers.

Kenneth Cole and the Arab Spring

The Blunder: Kenneth Cole jumped on the Arab Spring news story with a less than elegant tweet:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo, Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online”

Why It Happened: Creativity got in the way of common sense. Politics, religion, and um… revolution are incendiary topic that should be handled with care.


The same conversation rules that work at the bar and family dinners should be applied here. Provocative advertising can get you attention but ultimately it can backfire. Since the risk is often disproportionate to the benefit, it’s better to dig a little deeper for a social play that has more legs and less risk.

Qantas and #QantasLuxury

The Blunder: Bad luck and horrible timing led to the launch of Twitter Contest that asked followers to detail their dream luxury in flight experience. The problem was that the day before union talks had broken down and customers were still upset about a fleet shutdown that disrupted travel plans for thousands.

Why It Happened:
Operations, Customer Service, Marketing, and Social Media weren’t talking. A open-eyed review of social sentiment and actual conversations would have given the social team a heads-up that they were poking a hornet’s nest.


Invest in a social media monitoring tool that gives real-time and accurate reports on what your community is saying about your brand. Any major social initiative should have a go, no-go, checkoff that polls customer service and operation.

A Face Full of Tomato Sauce

The Blunder: The folks at Ragu stepped in it when they tried to joke about dads lack of kitchen expertise. Ragu’s mistake was creating a video with moms spouting off about their kitchen-illiterate husbands. Not-funny and the Dads blogged en-masse about Ragu’s faux-pas.

Why It Happened: The problem is that Ragu missed a growing movement of dads who are kitchen, diaper, laundry, and bed-time story ninjas. The social web is packed with these interest and lifestyle based interest groups. A simple search would have uncovered the CC Chapman’s of the world and averted the PR misstep.

Use social networks to monitor the pulse of your customers. A simple poll on Facebook can offer clues to how a marketing campaign, new product launch or price change could be perceived. Which leads to…

Netflix and Qwikster

The Blunder: Netflix decided to raise its prices without talking to their customers first. Next they confused everyone by spinning off their DVD rental into another brand, Qwikster, but failed to secure the Twitter username @Qwikster. The Twitter handle was scooped up by a loser who had a talent for bashing Netflix. The cost of this particular blunder was 800,000 lost subscribers or $192 million in $20/month subscriber fees.

Why It Happened:
Netflix is a savvy online player. On this one they forgot that they had an open channel to poll their most fanatic subscribers. Simply asking them how they would react to the changes would have revealed the gaping holes in their strategy. Ignoring these people created a firestorm that couldn’t be contained.

Remember that “dialogue” is a competitive weapon. Facebook, Twitter are free to use and incredibly valuable for gathering opinons and soliciting support for company initiatives. It’s a good idea to add “social focus groups” to the traditional customer research done before the roll-out of any new product or service.

5 More Examples

Advertising Age did a terrific job at compiling and profiling these blunders.  Read 5 more here.

I’m curious about your perspective on what went wrong with Quantas, Ragu, Netflix, Kenneth Cole, and New Media Strategies.  Talk to me in the comments below.

Contributing Columnist Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass!

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