Social media is an integral part of our lives — with research suggesting that the average person spends more than two hours every day on social networking sites. Social media has grown into more than just a platform for kids to communicate, families to stay connected and parents to post photos of their kids. It’s a medium where brands can find and engage customers. Unfortunately, it’s also where brands can fall victim to social media blunders.
As they say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And, that couldn’t be truer than with how brands use social media.
Too often we hear stories of social media blunders that cause a whirlwind of destruction for a brand’s image. From misguided tweets to untimely Facebook posts, here are three of 2018’s biggest social media fails — and what you can learn from each.
The U.S. Air Force misses its target
In May a social personality, Cloe Feldman, tweeted an audio clip that instantly divided the world wide web and sparked the now infamous Yanny vs. Laurel debate.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
Any social media marketer will tell you that it’s in these moments of social virality that brands can yield the best return on their posts. Jump into the debate with the perfect social media post and you’ll see floods of comments, shares and engagements.
Brands like Warby Parker and Sony cleverly joined the fun with timely and relevant posts. These subtle, yet lighthearted social posts were a great way for these brands to piggyback off the attention of the trendy debate.
Warby Parker tweet:
— Warby Parker (@WarbyParker) May 16, 2018
— Sony (@Sony) May 16, 2018
Unfortunately, the U.S. Air Force decided to use this playful debate as an opportunity to promote its military operations in Afghanistan. The tweet, which was deleted within six hours, read:
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the Air Force tweeted on Thursday morning.”
The social media blunder was immediately met with backlash. As you can imagine, using a friendly debate as a platform for promoting war efforts was not well received.
Takeaway: know your audience
There are several takeaways from the Air Force’s ill-advised Yanny vs. Laurel tweet, but one of the most important is to make sure you understand your audience before you post any form of communication online.
After browsing some of the Air Force’s previous tweets, it’s clear that their Yanny vs. Laurel tweet was not out of character with some of the other content they shared to their followers. So, what made this error so egregious?
If not for the viral nature of the Yanny vs. Laurel hashtag, the followers of the Air Force’s social pages may not have batted an eye. However, the people who saw the message were not your average Air Force followers.
As a brand, it’s vital that you understand the audience consuming your message, especially online where your consumers’ voices are amplified.
This can be tricky when you want to participate in a viral conversation that doesn’t have a defined audience. As a rule of thumb, the less confident you are about the defined audience, the more neutral your message should be.
Fake social account facepalms from Waltonchain, Dez Bryant and Bryan Colangelo
In 2017, the notion of using fake social accounts as a brand came to light with NBA superstar Kevin Durant responded from his main, verified account in the third person, defending himself on Twitter. In a nutshell, Kevin Durant had other fake profiles on Twitter that he would use to respond to people bashing him on social media. It was only uncovered because he failed to switch to one of the fake accounts before sending a response.
You might think this is an isolated incident, but 2018 proved to take fake social accounts to a whole other level. The most notable fake social account facepalm came at the hands of the former Philadelphia 76ers’ president and general manager, Bryan Colangelo.
After an anonymous tip, an investigator from The Ringer published a report that seemingly connected Bryan Colangelo with several fake Twitter accounts. To make matters worse, those accounts were used to criticize NBA players (some of whom were part of the 76ers’ organization), debate actions from his own coaching staff, and disclose sensitive medical and strategic information.
After the social media blunder, Bryan Colangelo and the entire 76ers’ organization were met with heavy criticism.
Dez Bryant, an NFL player, and Waltonchain, a blockchain startup, were both recent victims of cringe-worthy social posts that left many speculating the use of fake accounts. Waltonchain ran a social media promotion giving away some of its cryptocurrency to participants. However, someone at the brand failed to switch accounts before posting “OMG! Cant [sic] believe I won! Thank you Walton team!…” from the main Waltonchain Twitter account.
Followers naturally questioned the integrity of the competition, and the social media blunder left Waltonchain scrambling to apologize and save face.
Takeaway: Be genuine
There is a lot of skepticism online, and as “fake news,” burner social media accounts and rigged contests continue to thrive, it will only get more difficult for your brand to gain the trust of consumers.
Also, it should go without saying, but don’t use fake social accounts to prop up your brand’s image. If your brand is facing criticism or negative reviews online, look internally at the claims to see their validity, and control the damage from your brand’s social accounts using effective customer service strategies.
Jeremy Scott makes light of a sensitive subject
Social media is an excellent platform for raising awareness about social injustice and various causes. However, when companies use those mediums to comment on social or political issues while also promoting their brand, it can come off as tactless.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Scott, an American fashion designer, released a teaser of his upcoming fall line on Instagram by painting the models in Martian-like skin tones that made them appear “out of this world.”
The ad aimed to comment on the trending political topic of “illegal aliens” while showcasing his new line. The ad read “THE ONLY THING ILLEGAL ABOUT THIS ALIEN IS HOW GOOD SHE LOOKS.”
Many of Scott’s followers immediately posted their disdain for the ad. Consumers rarely expect brands to comment on sensitive topics such as politics, and if a brand does comment on a sensitive topic with an ulterior motive such as promoting itself, you can almost always expect backlash.
Takeaway: Learn to separate personal opinions from your brand
As a brand, it is important to have ideals and social pillars on which you build your identity. However, it’s also paramount that you know how to separate your personal opinions from your brand — especially on social media, where posts generally live forever.
Your brand shouldn’t take a position on sensitive subjects unless that is a main part of your brand’s identity.
Many of these topics divide our country and many of your customers. By taking a public position on these sensitive areas, you risk alienating your clients. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and should not feel restricted from speaking your mind — but reserve those posts for your personal accounts.
Avoid social media blunders
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms are designed to give users a place to share opinions, information, and other interesting posts. Social media has grown into something incredibly powerful — the likes of which many never imagined.
Brands must have a presence on social media, especially the platforms your target audience frequents. However, it’s important to have a clear and structured strategy for using social media, lest you risk making social media blunders like the brands mentioned above.