Stuart Marler
Stuart Marler 16 March 2016
Categories Social Media

Top 30 Social Media Fails

We have all heard of the incredible, inspirational success stories, so let’s look at when social media goes bad (insert evil laugh here!).

Love it or loathe it, there is no denying that social media is here to stay, and it’s not an overstatement to say it has the power to make or break a business.

1. Adam Richman #Thinspiration Twitter Rant (2014)


If you have ever caught the TV show Man Vs Food you will no doubt be familiar with the affable host Adam Richman, so it came as something of a surprise to read his expletive filled rant on Twitter in response to his use of the word #thinspiration.

After losing a large amount of weight, the once portly star proudly commented on an Instagram picture:

‘Had ordered this suit from a Saville Row tailor over a year ago. Think I’m gonna need to take it in a little…..#Victory #EyesOnThePrize #AnythingIsPossible #Fitness #Transformation #Thinspiration’

Unfortunately for Mr Richman, the word thinspiration has negative connotations, often associated with the eating disorder Anorexia. When his followers tried to educate him on his faux pas, instead of simply apologising and removing the offending quote he launched into a full scale personal attack on those questioning him.
Unsurprisingly his show was put on the back burner and he has done his likeable, affable image untold harm.

Richman has since apologised for his ‘inexcusable remarks’, explaining that his behavour was ‘unbecoming and unacceptable’.

A real shame that a social media post which was meant to relay such a positive message could have such a dire outcome. The real shame is that if it was handled correctly he could have nipped it in the bud with little or no harm to his career, in fact he could have turned it around to win him more fans.

The lesson here – everyone makes mistakes. Swallow your pride and apologise if you want to keep your reputation (and your job) in tact .

2. Amy’s Baking Social Media Meltdown (2013)

The mother of all meltdowns, all played out publicly via social media. Amy’s Baking, you may remember, is a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, which featured in a particularly memorable episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (such was his exasperation with this couple that he left before filming ended). Needless to say, the owners did not come across well, resulting in a barrage of criticism via social media platforms including Reddit, Yelp and Facebook. The owners, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, have a lot to learn about social media etiquette. A barrage of abusive messages from the Bouzaglos followed, including these gems!


Days later the couple claimed their accounts had been hacked which was treated with general scepticism.

This story goes to show how dangerous social media can be in the wrong hands. If you are prone to fly off the hook and are unable to accept criticism, firstly, get out of the hospitality trade, and secondly, stay away from social media!

3. British Gas Twitter Q & A (2013)

British Gas got their timing spectacularly wrong when they scheduled a Twitter Q & A session with its customers on the same day it imposed a 10% rise in its energy bills. Predictably, questions and comments were somewhat critical:
Whilst British Gas defended their decision to proceed with the Q&A session, it was generally regarded as an unequivocal PR fail by, well, everyone really!


4. HMV Disgruntled Staff Hijack Twitter Account (2013)

Music retailer HMV trended for all the wrong reasons in 2013 when its official Twitter feed was taken over by understandably disgruntled staff who were losing their jobs. They managed to post 7 tweets before the account was brought back under control.

The tweets in question:


The unfolding of events wasn’t restricted to Twitter. The story was picked up by news stations and made national headlines. The takeover was later blamed on an intern. Moral of this story? Make sure you know how to ‘turn off Twitter’!

5. Paypal’s Rakesh Agrawal Turns on Colleagues (2014)

Rakesh ‘Rocky’ Agrawal was Director of Strategy at Paypal until he was very publicly fired due to a series of abusive tweets (the question as to whether he was fired or resigned was later questioned and is still a little unclear). While the tweets were a little hard to decipher, the general message was apparent almost immediately. Aimed at certain colleagues, they were unprofessional and just downright rude. His late night tweets included the following:
Agrawal fairly promptly deleted the offending messages although unfortunately for him not quickly enough. In his defence he explained that it was all down to a new phone and an unfamiliar keyboard…What????


6. Give Greg The Holiday – Jumping on the bandwagon (2014)

Give Greg the holiday is a social media story of two halves. The first – the fun and fabulous viral campaign. For those unfamiliar with the story, Greg Heaslip is a security guard who unwittingly became the subject of a viral campaign which started when he innocently sent an email to his boss requesting time off work. Unbeknown to him, his boss accidentally sent the email to all 3500 people working for the company. This holiday request found its way onto Twitter, where it coined the hashtag #GiveGregTheHoliday. Seeing the opportunity of some great publicity, Trek America even offered Greg an all expenses holiday to Las Vegas. Other major brands also took advantage of the trending subject.

In an act of humbling kindness and generosity, Greg declined the holiday, instead donating it to the Stephen Sutton Teenage Cancer Campaign, another very high profile social media campaign which has gone stratospheric.

So, all good so far…yes, but inevitably where there is a viral campaign, there is always someone trying to jump on the bandwagon. If it’s relevant, then fair play, but Cellecta Insulation should be ashamed of themselves for their blatant use of a trending hashtag.
Bad call Cellecta.





7. Audi – Give People What They Want (2014)

This is a tricky one as some may say that what Audi was daring to be different and experimental, whilst others slated the company for not giving its followers what they want….cars. Audi’s #Paymydues campaign (to coincide with its new A3 Sedan) requested its social media followers to share their photos which represented triumph over adversity. The most popular photos were then re-interpreted by artists in a planned live event. A noble cause perhaps, but Audi followers were understandably confused. They follow Audi because they like Audis. Here are a sample of their comments:
Ouch! Lesson – Know your audience.


8. NYPD #MyNYPD Backfires (2014)

To be fair on the NYPD, I can see where they were going with this one. They asked their Twitter followers to share photos of themselves with NYPD Officers, using the hashtag #MyNYPD. What they were not expecting was an onslaught of photos which did not reflect the police in a good light to say the least. This is what they were expecting…


This is what they got…



Great idea but given the subject matter and strong public opinion, perhaps slightly misplaced, but hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

9. Mastercard and the Brits (2014)

The PR company working on behalf of Mastercard, the official sponsors of the Brits Awards, were left desperately trying to salvage their own reputation after an angry backlash on Twitter. House PR had asked journalists to tweet about Mastercard, using the hashtag #PricelessSurprises, in exchange for being allowed to officially cover the Brits. Naturally, this didn’t go down too well, with many journalists calling it downright bribery.

Now, of all the people not to upset, journalists would be pretty high on the list one would have thought! Unfortunately for House PR and Mastercard, the hashtag #PricelessSurprises took on an altogether different meaning.



And my personal favourite…


10. Urban Outfitters/Gap/American Apparel & Hurricane Sandy (2012)

Three for the price of one. Three internationally recognised brands who really should know better. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the hashtag #Sandy was naturally trending across social media. Many companies shamefully jumped on the bandwagon, exploiting the hashtag for their own greed.

American Apparel emailed their customers with the following:


Even after receiving numerous complaints they did not see fit to apologise.

Gap are similarly guilty of exploiting the situation. In a shockingly insensitive tweet they wrote:


Gap at least had the decency to backtrack and removed the offending tweet, but received little sympathy.

Last but not least is Urban Outfitters who again tried to take advantage of a national disaster with the following tweet:


Honestly…words fail me.

11. Epicurious and the Boston Bombing (2013)

In a similar vein to the Hurricane Sandy tweets, another company blatantly trying to cash in on a disaster in an incredibly mis-judged tweet which brought them criticism from around the world. Shortly after the Boston bombings, Epicurious casually posted the following on their Twitter page:


he moral, yes it’s OK to offer thoughts and condolences in times of disaster, but NEVER, EVER try to turn it into a marketing opportunity.

12. American Rifleman Mis-Timed Tweet (2012)

Another example of epic mistiming. A matter of hours after the horrific shooting at a Colorado movie theatre which left 12 dead, American Rifleman offered this tweet:


The tweet was removed some hours later, alongside a statement that the person responsible for the tweet was unaware of the events in Colorado, and the tweet was taken out of context. Whether or not this is true, an apology would have been a more respectful response perhaps. Sadly, it was not forthcoming.

13. London Luton Airport and the Inappropriate Photo (2013)

A snowy day in London prompted a member of the London Luton Airport support team to post this picture:
Alongside the picture was the following message:


‘Because we are such a super airport…This is what we prevent you from when it snows……weeee’

What made this such a social media disaster is that the picture in question depicted a crash in which a young child was killed. Understandably, a number of complaints were received. The post was removed after 90 minutes, with London Luton Airport making the following statement:

‘London Luton Airport apologises unreservedly for the post on Facebook, which was wholly unacceptable and insensitive. We have social media guidelines that clearly outline what is acceptable. However, in this instance a new, over enthusiastic member of the support team made an honest but misguided mistake and clearly stepped over the line. We apologise for any offence caused. Further steps have been taken to guarantee this never happens again.’

In fairness to London Luton Airport, they handled the aftermath sensitively, but it still goes down as one of the all-time social media fails.

14. Burger King – Un-Friend People for a Whopper (2009)

This campaign can be seen as a success or a failure depending on your moral viewpoint. The idea was that if Facebook users dumped 10 of their Facebook friends, they would be able to claim a prize of a free Whopper. Users had to use the Whopper Sacrifice Application.

Whilst there is no doubt that the campaign was popular, it raised moral issues, not least that a Whopper has more value than a friend. It has also been criticised for its negative connotations. Eventually Facebook disabled the app as it ‘violated users expectations of privacy’. In normal circumstances, if you unfriend a person on Facebook, they will not be notified. With this app however, they were sent a message saying they had been sacrificed for a burger…Nobody wants to hear that!


The app was used by 82,000 people, meaning 230,000 friends were sacrificed in the process. Success or fail…you choose.

15. KitchenAid and that Obama Tweet (2012)

A monumentally insensitive tweet sent KitchenAid into major panic alert during the American presidential election. The tweet made reference to the recent death of Obama’s Grandmother:

‘@KitchenAidUSA Obamas gma even knew it was going to be bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president??? Wow! #nbcpolitics’

KitchenAid responded to the preceding onslaught with a series of apologetic tweets, explaining that the tweet in no way represented the brand opinion. It followed this with an email statement, received by HuffPost:

‘During the debate last night, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore. That said, I lead the KitchenAid brand, and I take responsibility for the whole team. I am deeply sorry to President Obama, his family, and the Twitter community for this careless error. Thanks for hearing me out’. –Cynthia Soledad, senior director, KitchenAid

16. Tesco Hitting the Hay (2013)

This rather unfortunate tweet was posted at the time of the horse meat scandal, and seemed to make light of the situation. In 2013 Britain was rocked when it emerged that meat products from major brands including supermarket giant Tesco, contained large amounts of horse meat. So, on the day that the story broke, this was probably not the most appropriate tweet:


A flurry of angry responses followed, to which Tesco responded by explaining that the tweet had been scheduled days earlier, before the scandal had broken. Many demanded to know why they scheduled social media posts were not inspected in light of the latest news. However, this rather tasteless tweet did prompt an avalanche of similar posts, such as this:

Tesco’s burgers, a mane part of a stable diet #horsepuns

and this…

Has anyone tested Tesco’s veggie burgers for uniquorn yet? (sorry)

Lesson to be learned – Always check your scheduled posts in light of current news.

17. Kenneth Cole #Cairo (2011)

Yet another case of shocking insensitivity and using a disaster to callously market your business. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole made light of the protests in Egypt with the following tweet:
He subsequently apologised for his insensitivity with the following statement:


“Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC”

However, this was not the first time he had angered the public, with this rather crass statement following 9/11.

“Important moments like this are a time to reflect…To remind us, sometimes, that it is not only important what you wear, but it’s important to be aware.”

Given the enormous backlash to his previous statements, you would think that Mr Cole would have learned his lesson. Unfortunately not. On 5th September 2013 he posted the following tweet, in reference to the conflict in Syria:


18. K-Mart & The Connecticut Shooting Twitter Fail (2012)

Yet another social media fail comes from the retail giant K-Mart. 26 people, including many children were shot dead at one of the worst school shootings in American history. On the day of the shootings, K-mart were promoting their #Fab15Toys campaign on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that you may think? Well, all was going well until they made the unfortunate decision to include the #Fab15Toys in a tweet offering condolences to the victims:


After scores of tweets condemning K-mart, including this:


K-mart responded with the following statement:

“We wanted the participants in the Twitter party we had just halted to see our message of sympathy. The way you do that is by adding the hashtag for the Twitter party. It was absolutely not used for any promotional reasons, but simply to ensure the participants of the Twitter party were able to see our message of sympathy.”

Whether or not the above statement is true, this social media fail shows how important it is to use hashtags appropriately or risk a public backlash. It is never acceptable to promote your business or your hashtag in a message of condolence, or be seen to be doing so.

20. Spearmint Rhino Inappropriate Baby Photo (2013)

International strip club chain Spearmint Rhino suffered a rather embarrassing fail when their Melbourne branch decided it would be fun to post a photo of one of their strippers as a baby and ask their followers to guess who it is. Unfortunately, they failed to notice a date at the bottom of the photo. Eagle eyed followers were quick to respond to the fact that the date meant the stripper in question would only have been 14 years old.

The fact that the social media team posted a photo of a baby on a strip club Facebook page was questionable in itself, let alone the issue of an underage stripper. The offending post was quickly removed and it has since come to light that it was a fake time stamped photo, but for the Melbourne Spearmint Rhino team it was an epic fail.

21. US Airway and That Pornographic Photo (2014)

A PR disaster for the airline which was the result of, in their words, an honest mistake. The Twitter conversation started off fairly normally, with a follower voicing their disappointment that their flight was delayed. What US Airways tweeted in response was perhaps the most eye wateringly shocking tweet a corporate company has ever sent! Not quite in keeping with company branding one could say, although the photo did involve a plane (enough said).
The offending tweet was removed an hour later, but not before a series of very shocked responses and, of course, hundreds of re-tweets. US Airways were quick to respond with an apology, which was followed up with the following explanation:


US Airways were in fact trying to flag the image as inappropriate. However, in doing so the pictures URL was also copied. This link was accidentally pasted into a tweet which was sent to another user. Whilst the two tweets were live they linked to one another. It was an honest mistake.

Confused? Me too. An honest mistake maybe, a PR disaster, definitely.

22. Volkswagon and Greenpeace (2012)

Greenpeace had for some time been campaigning against VW for their part in lobbying against climate change laws. They also opposed VW’s decision to not feature their Blue Motion Technology (which reduced carbon emissions) as standard in all their vehicles.

When VW posted this seemingly innocent post…


it proved to be too good an opportunity to miss for Greenpeace. What followed was a series of replies all basically demanding answers about the climate change issues. This is where VW made an enormous error. Instead of responding to Greenpeace in a professional manner, they simply ignored the tweets, then to add insult to injury, they even deleted some of them. The story made national and international news. Greenpeace 1 – VW 0.

The moral of the story. Don’t ignore criticism. The way you as a company respond to criticism to make a huge difference to the public’s perception on you.

23. Susan Boyle #susanalbumparty (2012)

OK, so this is not quite in the same league as some of the other fails, but as we are nearing the end of the list I thought a little light relief was in order.

Another hashtag disaster which a little proof reading could have avoided. Whilst it was an innocent hash tag to promote Susan Boyles album party, those of a slightly naughtier disposition sniggered at the use of anal, bum and party in one hashtag. Needless to say it was promptly changed to #susanboylealbumparty.

24. TGI Friday and ‘Woody’ (2009)

The concept was a fairly original one, especially considering this all took place in 2009. TGI Fridays launched a massive ad campaign based around Woody, a TGI superfan. A Facebook page was created in his name and TGI followers were told that if he reached 500,000 likes before the end of September, each of those fans would receive a free TGI burger. Whilst the campaign was to many a huge success (Woody actually received 1million likes), it has since been widely criticised as it misled people. People thought that Woody was a real person rather than a marketing concept, and so felt duped.


Clever marketing in the early days on Facebook, but certainly not without its critics.

25. United Breaks Guitars (2008)

Perhaps my favourite social media story ever. Dave Carroll is a Canadian musician who, one fateful day in 2008, took a flight with United Airlines. During this trip his guitar was broken, allegedly by less than professional baggage handlers. He subsequently put a claim in for damages for the $3500 guitar only to be told he was not successful as the claim had not been made within the stipulated 24 hours.

The saga rumbled on for another 9 months to no avail. It was only when Carroll put his musical talents to good use that the airline was forced to take notice.

Carroll recorded a song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ and put it on YouTube.

This video was viewed by over 150,000 people in its first day, and to date has been seen by over 14 million people. The story has since been picked up by national and international news stations, prompting a PR disaster for the airline.

Whilst the airline did eventually apologise, it was no doubt only because of the success of the social media campaign. Had they responded sooner they could have salvaged their reputation somewhat.

On the flip side, there were a couple of canny companies who saw the massive marketing potential in this situation. Taylor Guitars offered Carroll two guitars for his YouTube videos. Clever eh?

In 2012 Carroll released a book – United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.

I know of a few companies who would have benefited from reading this book!

26. Axl Rose and Dr Pepper (2008)
The marketing people must have thought they had hit upon a gift of an idea when they decided to give away a free soda to ‘everyone in America’ IF Guns N’ Roses released their long awaited album ‘Chinese Democracy’ within the year of 2008. The fact that the album was already 15 years in the making no doubt filled the marketing peeps at Dr Pepper with confidence. Their sodas would be safe.
Yes, you’ve guessed what happens next…..Guns N’ Roses release the said album, meaning Dr Pepper had to post the coupon on their site, which they duly did. The main stipulation was that fans had to print out the coupon within 24 hours. As would be expected, the website crashed. Disgruntled Americans, in their frustration, blamed Guns N’ Roses, believing they were somehow involved.
An embarrassing episode for Dr Pepper, and, through no fault of their own, Guns N’ Roses. Axl Rose sued Dr Pepper for the way the campaign was handled, as well as using the Guns N’ Roses brand. Dr Pepper maintained that the campaign was just a bit of fun, and, to be fair, although it was chaotic, it was their most successful giveaway ever. Every cloud and all that!
(Incidentally, the album was not a critical success….maybe they didn’t take long enough!)
27. Starbucks – #RaceTogether (2015)
A well-meaning but ill-advised campaign aimed to get Starbucks customers talking about race issues and equality. A noble thought perhaps, but one which rapidly descended into a storm of negativity. If ever there was a case of a campaign achieving the very opposite of what it set out to achieve, this is it.
The timing of the campaign was the main issue. It came shortly after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men. The idea centred around Starbucks baristas writing ‘Race Together’ on coffee cups with the aim of starting a positive dialogue about race issues.



Starbucks faced a massive backlash from the public who saw the #RaceTogether initiative as innapropriate and misguided. The vast majority of social media feedback was negative in the extreme. An angry America did not want conversation with their coffee.

28. Seaworld faces a backlash (2015)
As with so many of these social media campaigns, this one too started with good intentions. Seaworld invited their Twitter fans to ask questions about killer whales. Seems like a nice thing to do right? Wrong! What followed was a barrage of questions and accusations from animal rights campaigners and concerned members of the public about the treatment of these and other animals at their facility.



The moral of this fail…..if you open up your business to potential negative comments via open discussion, be prepared with your responses.

29. Bill Cosby Meme (2014)
The most controversial fail for obvious reasons, but, such a spectacular backfire that it just had to make the list.
Bill Cosby’s marketing people innocently posted a tweet inviting fans to create a meme of him. Under normal circumstances I think we can all agree that this would have been a harmless bit of fun and, frankly, not a bad bit of marketing……….BUT………………around the same time, allegations began to re-surface about Cosby drugging and raping a number of women.
What followed, quite predictably, was a series of memes containing accusations, berating Cosby very publicly. It would be unsuitable to post such posts on this list, but I’m sure you get the general gist.
The tweet was removed from the account fairly promptly but the damage was already done and the memes were out there in Twitterland.
Whilst we can ordinarily all learn something from social media fails, this was (thankfully) one of a kind. I kind of pity the marketing team who must have thought they had come up with a killer idea for a previously much loved star.

30. Twitter CFO slips up (2014)

And so we have made it to the end…are you still with me? Here is one to make you feel better about your own social media fails!

It’s nice to know that even the experts make mistakes isn’t it?
After assuring users that Twitter was to be re-designed to be more user friendly and less confusing, Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto accidentally tweeted about a new company acquisition. Clearly he thought he was sending a private direct message and the tweet was removed as soon as the mistake had been realised.


However, as we know, no tweet ever gets unseen by the eagle eyed. Much discussion ensued about who or what Twitter wanted to acquire (it seems it was a selfie app backed by Justin Bieber).
Can you imagine the embarrassment and awkward conversations which followed? Poor Guy!

So, there you have it. 30 embarrassing, cringe-worthy or just plain funny fails. They say ‘any publicity is good publicity’. Hmmm… I think probably not!

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